Ok, I confess: I have a sweet tooth.
I always have, ever since childhood and I’ve always struggled with my compulsion to comfort eat. These days I’ve got it largely under control but there are certain times of the year when it seems that the whole world wants me to fall off the sugar wagon! One of those times is Christmas of course, but another?
Easter eggs, hot cross buns, delicious cakes in tempting sugary colours – it can be all too easy to get your sugar fix and then some at this time of year. “Oh it’s ok” we say to ourselves “it’s just for a week or so, and besides the weather is brightening up – I’ll be craving salads and exercise pretty soon!”
The problem is that when I say ‘sugar fix’ I really mean it. Sugar is like a drug; in fact scientists have noted that it affects the same part of the brain as cocaine. You see, we all have these lovely happy chemicals in our bodies called neurotransmitters. Perhaps the best known of these are serotonin and dopamine, both of which are created naturally in the brain in order to make you feel happy and motivated.
We can also take healthy steps to boost these happy chemicals: thinking positively, exercising, meditating and even interacting with animals can send a surge or dopamine to our brains, making us feel extra happy and extra ready to move towards our goals.
The problem is that not everything that boosts dopamine (and the other chemicals, I’m short-handing now) does so in a healthy way. The obvious short term fixes are cigarettes and drugs of course, but sugar is similarly deceiving.
Sugar sends a giant wave of dopamine into our brains, but it wears off far too soon and we’re left craving more. Consume too much sugar too often and the constant up and down interrupts the natural release of dopamine, making it harder for the body to produce its own. It then takes more and more sugar to get that same happy feeling, increasing your dependency on it and leading to all sorts of mental and physical health issues… just like a drug.
Have you ever had a sugar crash? You eat a big bowl of sugary cereal for breakfast and by lunchtime you’re feeling shaky and tired. You might even reach for a chocolate bar mid-morning to stave off that feeling. Meanwhile you’re gaining weight and bombarding your mind with a roller coaster of emotions that it just can’t handle. Add to that the fact that sugar prompts weight gain predominantly around the tummy, and you leave yourself open to long term illness like diabetes and even heart problems.
Wow, am I a party pooper or what?!
The thing is though, like everything in life, this isn’t a tale of denial, but one of moderation. As I said at the beginning – I have a sweet tooth. If I attempted to cut out sugar completely I’d be miserable – and I’d probably end up binging. So how do you control your sugar cravings without denying them? The answer is natural sugars.
You see the right kind of sugar gives you energy and the right kind is natural. Add a teaspoon of honey to your porridge, snack on fruit, and substitute some of the sugar for banana in your cakes (yup, you read that right – Google it, it’s delicious!).
That way you’ll have a steady flow of the sweet stuff to add to your energy and top up your natural neurotransmitters. Then, if you still fancy that Easter Egg, go for it – but do so in moderation. A couple of squares of chocolate after dinner is a personal favourite (dark chocolate is better for you, but it’s honestly ok either way).
At the end of the day I’m not going to tell you to go cold turkey on sugar – life’s too short to be virtuous all the time
And I’m not going to lecture you about sugar making you ‘fat’ – regular readers will know that I’m all about health, not appearances
What I will say is that the information I’ve laid out here should allow you to approach nutrition in a more knowledgeable fashion, and help you to make healthy choices. Your body deserves to be treated with kindness and respected, and, let’s face it, your body deserves to be treated!