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  • Kari Blair

What’s the harm with a little bit of sugar?

What’s the harm with a little bit of sugar?

We are embarking on a season that is heavily focused on food. The way we approach and think about food is critical in physical and mental wellness. The term “comfort food” is not new to me, however until a couple of years ago, I didn’t have a full appreciation of its meaning and how the psychological and physiological aspects of food are intertwined. I am convinced that the majority of us are unknowingly addicted to food – specifically sugar.

A couple of years ago while doing a few juice cleanses, I began to discover my unhealthy patterns and relationship with food and dependency on sugar. I noticed how much I emotionally depended on food after not consuming sugar or other processed foods for a certain period of time. I was in the habit of putting my daughter to bed and curling up on the couch to watch my favorite shows with a plate of cheese and crackers. Alternatively, I would ‘reward’ myself with ice cream or chocolate after a stressful day at work or after a period clean eating. It seems easy to rationalize this type of eating behaviour when we eat generally healthy. I noticed that when I was stressed, anxious, tired or sometimes bored, I would turn to food. All day, I would look forward to whatever treat I was going to give myself that evening! This is what I would describe as a psychological addiction to food and what I became aware of first.

The documentary “Hungry for Change” (2012), Dr. Christiane Northrup talks about how processed foods are made specifically to stimulate certain chemicals in our brains that cause us to crave more and compares sugar to drugs like cocaine and heroin. If you have ever done a cleanse or detox, involving the temporary elimination of sugar from your diet, you can probably relate to experiencing headaches, moodiness and fatigue or other unpleasant symptoms. It’s important to remember that what you are consuming during the detox is not causing these symptoms, but rather, your body withdrawing from sugar. Now if that doesn’t sound like a drug to you, I am not sure what would!

When I started the 21 Day Fix program last February (2015), I was able to take this idea of being physiologically addicted to food to a new level. Up until this point, I had never had a prolonged period of time off processed foods and refined sugar. For the first couple of months, I discovered that my cravings and desire for these types of food went away completely. My relationship with food changed as I began to view and treat food solely as nourishment and fuel for my body, while at the same time, still enjoying it. I was no longer depending on special ‘treats’ or rewards on stressful days, as I felt so much better mentally, physically and emotionally by eating clean and healthy. I realized that what I had considered ‘treats’ or rewards (processed or sugary foods) were actually a kind of punishment for my body and not a reward at all. For example, it would cause an increase in anxiety, depressive feelings, fatigue and/or lethargy and negatively impact my quality of sleep.

Last spring, after a couple of months of eating clean, I decided I would have some ice cream for dessert with my family. I didn’t even want the ice cream, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt as I had been eating so healthy. The following 3 or 4 days after eating the ice cream, all I could think of was consuming more sugar, as my body started craving it again. It made my clean eating plan much more difficult as I was craving sugar so badly, but after staying away from sugar for another few days, I was able to kick the cravings. You might be thinking that it is alright to have a treat every once in a while, and it might be for you. But I know for me, if I want to continue to eat clean and healthy, I need to stay away from sugar completely.

Are you wondering if you are psychologically and/or physiologically dependent on food? I would suggest taking some time to just observe your eating patterns and relationship with food. Don’t judge yourself. Think about and pay attention to your choices; what might be going on for you at the time and what you are feeling emotionally. Perhaps write it down. Keep an eating journal noting what you are eating and when, what you are doing at the time and how you are feeling when you eat. You could do this for a couple of weeks or a month, without making any changes to your diet and not judging yourself, just noticing. If and when you feel ready to address your relationship with food, you might start by picking out recurring feelings and emotions associated with food choices or life events. Highlight areas where you may be using food to cope with emotions or life situations and perhaps replace it with a healthier food choice or activity. This work would be addressing any psychological dependency you might have on food. I recently completed the “3 Day Refresh” program by Beachbody, it is a great way to kick the physiological dependency and sugar cravings J Both options can work really well to get back on track and use food for what it is meant for: to fuel our bodies and provide us with energy.

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