Emotional Eating – Sugar Made Me Do It!
By: Lindsey Welsh
FOOD! I am a person that loves to cook and loves to savor the flavors I eat. It’s an emotional experience for me, and not just a physiological experience to keep me energized and actually remaining alive. It makes me happy and makes my soul sing with warmth, especially when I indulge in the foods that are terrible for me to consume. But why is that, and how can I stop it? What makes food so emotional for me? Why do I crave certain foods? Here are a few thoughts I have on that.
For me it seems so easy to gain weight but much more difficult to shed it. The best way for me to make the change to eat “properly”, is to understand why I should change, and what any given food item does to my body when I consume it.
Emotions and Feelings are generated through some sort of experience that our brain registers and creates into memories. This can be a conscious experience or a subconscious experience which can be created without even realizing it.
For me, food is/was used to make me feel good. At the time, I didn’t really think about how or why certain foods made me happy. Food made me feel good, and therefore I would keep eating those foods. It made enough sense to me, “I like “this” food, it makes me feel satiated, so I am going to continue to eat “this” food often”. I would rely on food to help make me feel better about a bummer day. On the flip side, I would also use food to celebrate an awesome day. It’s cheap, quick, and carries no judgement, and creates a form of satisfaction, that for me, was unexplainable and not even questioned. This brings me to the emotional a side of things. How and why did it become emotional for me? What am I so happy at this food for? It makes me fat, sad, socially withdrawn. There is no positive outcome that this food should be giving me. Going a bit deeper in my own thoughts, I don’t recall (and maybe it’s subconscious) having a specific experience or memory that surrounded any grilled cheese sandwich that would trigger a positive emotional response when I consume it, or even having the desire or craving for one. So, there must be something else going on within my body that is creating these responses. This lead me to believe that it could be linked to what my foods are made up of and how it is impacting my brain. The brain controls it all! In the brain, dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter, which is a chemical that is released by neurons (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve cells. The brain includes several specific dopamine paths, one of which plays a major role in “reward-motivated” behavior. How about serotonin? Serotonin can affect mood, social behavior, appetite, digestion, sleep, memory and even sexual desire and function. BINGO!
IS SUGAR THE BAD GUY!?
First, it’s worth mentioning that sugar is not inherently evil. From what I’ve learned, my body uses sugar to survive, and burns sugar to provide me with the energy necessary for life. My body obviously needs energy to keep on movin’. Many healthful foods (such as flax seeds, certain berries and other healthful carbs) are broken down into sugar within the body through the conversion of long and complex sugars called polysaccharides into short and simple sugars called monosaccharides, such as glucose. In addition to fat and protein, glucose is a source of energy for my body. However, there are two ways that sugar can sabotage my body and cause fat storage. Excess glucose is a problem, and it involves a very simple concept. Anytime my body is filled with more fuel than it actually needs to create energy (and this is very easy to do when eating foods with high sugar content), my liver’s sugar storage reaches capacity. When my liver is completely full, the excess sugar needs a place to go and is therefore converted by my liver into fatty acid(s) and returned back into my bloodstream, where it is taken throughout my body and stored as fat wherever I typically store fat cells, such as my face, that obnoxious muffin top, hips, butt, etc. Also, when sugar is converted into fat and not burned off quickly enough, it can clog arteries, and as we all know, the heart has arteries. This is how sugar is linked to obesity. and heart disease. So, I believe that sugar (when consumed excessively or consumed through the wrong healthful items) is one of the primary culprits for cause of death in the United States (Heart Disease) as well as Cardiovascular Disease.
Sugar is an addictive substance and is a large contributor to the U.S. obesity rate because of the way our bodies breakdown and store our foods, as we just mentioned. Sugar creates weight gain, and combined with sustained high insulin levels, this leads to insulin resistance, diabetes, mellitus, hypertension, dyslipidemia, cancers, sleep apnea, and other major issues, which also further increases my risk of cardiovascular disease.
As of 2016, more than one third of the entire United States of America is considered obese. The obesity rate in the United States has gone from 17% nationwide, to a whopping 36% over the last 40 years. It is worth noting that as of 1970 there was a massive increase in added sugars to our foods in the United States. More than 25% of our foods received sugar increases, or sugar was added to the products that were otherwise were not being included. This was to improve the flavor and palatability of foods, and it also acts as a natural preservative, which helps foods and their shelf life. This was obviously enticing to markets and grocery stores, for preventing loss on their financials caused by tossing out foods that expired or went “sour” more quickly, prior to this new change. 1970 happens to be just over 40 years ago as well. America gets fat starting 40 years ago….a large sugar push started 40 years ago. Coincidence? Um….no!
I’ve discovered that it isn’t that the food I “love” and crave just so happen to have sugar in it/them. It’s that I STARTED to “love” and crave foods that included sugar as an ingredient, BECAUSE of what sugar did to my body after it was consumed the first time, or after it’s been consumed repetitively. It created that happy emotional response, which then created that memory I talked about above. Sugar creates a disruption of the dopamine/acetylcholine reward balance in human brains and in animals brains as well I’d imagine, therefore triggering a “high” or a sensation worth remembering, even if it was just subconscious. Sugar has been tested many times, and is said to be just as addictive, if not more, than cocaine and heroine. This stuff is legal and purchased regularly…..what the!? My body would go through a form of withdrawal, once I became addicted to sugar (without even realizing or knowing it), and the more often I would consume this addictive substance in the foods I ate daily, the more frequently the cravings became, and the more I would consume, therefore creating more memories. After consuming a product that has sugar in it (that good ‘ole grilled cheese), my brain recalls the memory or memories that were created at the time I first or last felt that emotional response. Since the emotional response felt positive, it is the reason I have such desires for grilled cheese sandwiches and/or any other product that has sugar in it. I use the excuse “I couldn’t help it!” I use it jokingly because it’s true and untrue. I can’t help how my body reacted when I consumed unhealthy items that include sugar in them, but I can help what I do moving forward, to decrease the chances of recalling my emotional responses, by and through consuming healthful items that will eventually take the place of the previously recalled memories from sugar filled items. Isn’t the brain and the body so crazy and miraculous, and even such tricksters!
Sugar is sneaky, which is why it’s still legal. It is an added ingredient in SO many things such as, bread(d), soup(d), candy, soda, juices, salad dressing(s), yogurt, cereal, “nutritional” bars, even cured bacon, and much much more. I tell myself now…. “Look at those labels girlfriend!”
Also, leptin is a hormone that helps regulate appetite. When leptin levels rise, it signals my body that I am full so that I will stop eating. Guess what??? Sugar makes me leptin resistant, therefore I would continue to eat and eat without feeling the sensation of being full. This is one way that my liver reached it’s max so easily, and made me gain those unwanted gains…..and by gains I don’t mean the awesome muscles, I mean the pound gains on the scale. Research also reveals that sugar (even when my control caloric intake) affects my body composition. Meaning, if I am exercising like a mad woman and the weight isn’t falling off, even when I am in the accurate calorie zone for losing weight based on my goals, it could be because of the type of food you I am ingesting…..hint hint self….it’s the sugar! Food for thought (no pun intended)!
If I am searching for better health or to lose weight, I must limit or remove nearly all sugar, especially refined granulated sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup, from my diet. It isn’t a suggestion, it’s a fact, and it’s the only way. I need to embrace and accept it.
For me consuming sugar can be looked at like a business, when it relates to risk. I would want to mitigate my risk as a business owner. The risk cannot outweigh the reward, or it is counterproductive and the reward is not worthwhile. How does this apply to food, sugar, and what we are actually talking about? Here is how.
I ask myself this question, as a body owner. Is whatever I’m doing, going to have an end result that is considered positive, and will it outweigh the consequences or risks that may come afterwards? In the case of eating unhealthy sugar filled food that makes me emotionally giddy, the positive consequence or the reward would be that I get that happy momentary and temporary “high” feeling, caused by what was discussed above. The reward will probably last for several minutes up to a few hours, until that need for more food kicks in. The negative consequence or the risk that could and likely will come for me as an aftermath, includes obesity, heart disease, possible death, high medical bills, extensive medications to counteract the side effects, a greater feeling of unhappy emotions caused by social pain from weight gain or possibly becoming (literally) chemically imbalanced from lack of balanced nutrition, loss of muscle, depression, possible diabetes, higher financial expenses even just from needing to purchase new clothing to accommodate a growing waistline or the never ending food consumption that comes from being leptin resistant, etc.
The risk of eating healthily and exercising regularly is having to go through a temporary “withdrawal” off of sugar and other addictive substances, I will possibly experience headaches and feelings of overall discomfort and irritability for a short period of time, and I will likely need to incur expenses to purchase new clothes to fit my slimming waistline (not a terrible risk). BUT the reward heavily outweighs the risk. The reward is a chemically balanced system and body which can help decrease or completely eliminate symptoms of certain types of depression, decrease risk of heart disease and type II diabetes (which decreases the risk of losing limbs), it decreases medical expenses from expensive medications and trips to the doctor, it improves stamina and strength (which affects my personal life in every way especially as I age), it boosts confidence, improves self-esteem in social settings, it makes me more alert and full of energy, it improves my ability to sleep, it improves my libido…..yep….my libido…..and on and on and on. These things have been said many times and are not a secret.
Something needs to give. The risk cannot outweigh the reward if I want sincere happiness. My body needs fuel. The food I eat either turns into fat, or it turns into energy, but it cannot do both. I repeat…..it cannot do both. Physically ….scientifically….it’s impossible. It’s one or the other.
So if there is anything to take away from this, it is that if I can convince my mind to eliminate bad things from my diet, especially things with sugar (and cheese actually) that create dopamine and serotonin issues in my brain, I will find that eventually my mind and body will change how I feel about food emotionally, and it will be like a little toddler’s mind, and completely forget that I used to use those foods to feel happy in the first place. It will adjust to using something else to bring me joy, “recalling” different memories to turn to, to make me emotionally satisfied and happy that isn’t something edible.
I am the only person that can make the decision to change. It’s just like quitting any other unhealthy habit. I need to keep reminding myself that I am leaving something that is creating artificial happiness, to have something that makes me significantly and incomparably happier, and I need a plan. There is something to say about the phrase “If you fail to plan, then plan to fail.” I am going to work on de-coupling. What is coupling anyways? Coupling is a pairing of “things”. Here is what I mean through an analogy:
Meet Barb…..Barb smokes a total of 10 cigarettes a day, all of them get smoked during her lunch time.
Now meet Dave. Dave smokes a total of 10 cigarettes a day as well, but Dave chooses to smoke at 10 different times in the day (in his car, on lunch break, mid-day break, etc.)
Barb and Dave have both decided to make the healthy decision to quit smoking. However, it will be much harder for Dave to quit smoking than it will be for Barb to quit smoking. But wait…..they both smoke 10 cigarettes a day. Yes, this is true, BUT Barb has only COUPLED cigarettes to one thing in the day….her lunch break. So all she will need to do is replace her smoking habit during her lunch hour, whereas Dave will need to de-couple his smoking during 10 different times in the day.
How does this relate to my healthy eating habits? I am going to locate what or when I am most susceptible to eating poorly, I’m going to write them down, and create a plan of attack for those particular moments, and how or what positive thing(s) I will to do replace it.
Boom! Bring it on!