What do sugar, heroin, and morphine have in common?
Sugar – I don’t know very many people who don’t battle a problem with sugar at some point. Why is that? Why do we crave sugar?
If you remember good ‘ol health class, when you get a hit of dopamine – a chemical neurotransmitter – it stimulates the pleasure center of your brain. When you consume sugar, it releases dopamine. Since it feels good, you want more… and more… That’s how you develop an addiction.
Here’s the answer to the question in the title: Heroin and morphine stimulate those same receptors in your brain.
And even though you may try very hard to curb your addiction, willpower usually isn’t quite enough to help you lay off the sweets.
If you are wanting to overcome your addiction to sweets it helps to look at why you turn to them…
Sometimes we turn to sweets as comfort food when we are feeling lonely, frustrated, bored and many other emotions. We crave dopamine to feel better, but it wears off quickly. This becomes a habit whenever we feel a little down. If this is you, it’s important to identify with the emotion driving you to sweets and find a substitute. Try a hot bath, diffusing sweet essential oils, having one piece of hard candy. Or better yet, go for a walk or bike ride or some other type of exercise. It turns out the more you sit on your butt, the more you want to eat! So get up and move to curb your appetite. Exercise builds stronger muscles, which burn more glucose (sugar).
Sometimes sugar cravings are about what we are NOT eating.
Our bodies need a balance of protein, carbs and fat to function properly. Many of us are still on the “carbs are bad” bandwagon. However, our bodies need complex carbohydrates, without them you will feel low in energy and low in dopamine making you feel sad and sluggish. Make sure your day includes complex carbs like a half cup of whole grain rice or oatmeal, a sweet potato or winter squash. Carbs are not bad…choosing the right carbs is necessary for your body to operate efficiently.
Another way to reduce your sugar cravings is to eat more natural sugars, like whole and dried fruit. Slip them in wherever you can: add pear slices or dried cranberries to your salad, or put some lemon or mango on your chicken. Eat a dried prune for a snack.
Finally, do you eat breakfast? By skipping your early meals your body will want to “make up for it” later in the day. Head off your sugar cravings early in the day by having lean protein for breakfast. Greek yogurt, low-fat cheese, eggs, or peanut butter will all help you feel full longer in the day. Keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day by eating three meals and two snacks, all filled with protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Include beans, lean meats, nuts, whole grains, eggs, and vegetables.
A lot of your efforts to curb the sweets involve some mental preparation. Figure out when you are most likely to cave in, then don’t put yourself in those situations (eg, take a different route to the restroom, instead of past the vending machine). Prepare a baked apple stuffed with nut butter for dessert instead of ice cream. Also, instead of using cakes and cookies for celebrations, find other ways to bring yourself pleasure. Maybe with scented candles, or a favorite flavor of tea.
I know it’s not easy saying no to sweets. And you don’t have to say no all the time. The trick is to find a way to eat sweets in moderation, so you can manage your weight, as well as your long-term health.