The summer is in full swing and we all know that means lots of parties, alcohol and decadent foods. We often think we’re the victim to these circumstances or that if only we had more willpower or discipline, it wouldn’t be an issue.
I’m here to tell you it’s NOT about willpower. Okay there is a bit involved initially. But not much!
Here’s what’s really going on and why it’s so difficult to avoid the cheese, desserts, chocolate and eggnog. Certain foods are inherently addicting. Meat, dairy and sugar in particular are highly addicting because our brains evolved to enjoy things that had a lot of fat and calories. According to Dr. Neil Barnard, author of Breaking the Food Seduction, “Chocolate hits the brain and causes a habituation that is as real and physical as addiction to narcotics – albeit not so destructive” (p19).
“…The same parts of your brain that appreciates chocolate is also responsible for libido, that is sexual attraction. Your genes are just anxious to reward you for anything that perpetuates their existence (p22).
From a young age we can be addicted to sugar. If you dip a pacifier into sugar water and give it to a baby between nine to twelve weeks old and let them suck on it for three and a half minutes, you can leave the room, come back and the baby will smile at you, coo and prefer you over other people. Many studies confirm sugar’s highly addictive qualities.
Not only is sugar addicting, but when combined with fat (in the form of ice cream, cookies, cakes or butter on bread, etc) it’s even more addicting. This is all due to genetics and evolution.
Healthy carbohydrate-rich foods like vegetables, beans and most whole grains are different. They will eventually release sugar into the bloodstream but at a much slower rate, in exactly the form your body uses for energy. So if you’re struggling with energy levels, this is the key. Put the right kinds of carbohydrates in your body and you will crave less and have loads more energy.
Dr. Barnard also says, “Healthy foods can turn on that feel-good dopamine system, too- maybe not in quite the same way chocolate does, but they will do the job. Ditto for exercise” (p21). In other words, we can train our brains to crave healthy foods and not like the more destructive, addicting foods.
So how to break the cycle?
Replace refined sugars and carbohydrates with complex ones like beans, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. Crowd out the unhealthy foods with lots of healthy ones. When you are full from healthy foods, unhealthy ones seem less appealing and if consistent, you will soon break the vicious cycle of sugar, dairy and meat addiction. I will talk more about meat and dairy addiction in the weeks to follow. The secret is crowding out – it’s like a boycott against cravings until you naturally don’t experience them anymore because you trained your tastebuds to crave healthy things.
If you practice breaking free from the shackles of sugar before the parties, the summer will be that much easier.