Sugar is NOT like cocaine

Sugar is not like cocaine. To say that it is, is a dangerous, distorted, and misleading view of the actual truth.

Ready?

Here’s a little biology 101: The human brain has a “pleasure center” wherein dopamine is released into what is called the nucleus accumbens. Ever hear of a dopamine high? The faster dopamine releases into this little party of nerve cells, the greater the pleasure or high one feels. Guess what? “The brain registers all pleasures in the same way, whether they originate with a psychoactive drug, a monetary reward, a sexual encounter, or a satisfying meal.” (See this article in Harvard Health Publishing from Harvard Medical School.)

Whether you eat a piece of chocolate, laugh at a hilarious joke, jump out of an airplane, inject a recreational drug, melt into a sultry kiss, smell freshly baked bread, or whatever your pleasure may be, your brain responds the same way by releasing dopamine and titillating the nerves that make you smile and feel giddy.

There are two intensely significant differences between sugar and cocaine:

  1. Sugar is a nutrient. Cocaine has no nutritional value.
  2. Sugar is an energy source. Cocaine is a drug.

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I know many people (including myself) who’ve gone on strict sugar-free diets and cleanses because they think they have a sugar addiction. Addiction is a serious mental illness that is rooted in deep emotional disconnect from one’s feelings, healthy relationships, and healthy coping mechanisms. If you think you have an actual addiction with sugar or food as your drug of choice, you don’t need a diet;  you need help from a mental health professional–specifically an eating disorder therapist–to address the feelings underlying your addiction and to create new neuro-pathways in your brain for healthy coping.

However, if you crave sugar (even if all the time), remember that sugar is the body’s number one source of fuel–energy. Your body is simply asking for the energy it needs to do whatever you are asking it to do (run around with your kids, get through that afternoon meeting, run five miles, etc.) Your  body is always burning energy, not just in your physical movements, but also when you are thinking, feeling, and sleeping.

It’s also important to note that if you have gone on a sugar cleanse or sugar-free diet or even  a low-carb/no-carb diet and felt like total crap, blaming your irritability, lightheaded-ness, shakes, and headaches on sugar withdrawal, these symptoms are not evidence of a sugar addiction. These are the symptoms of hypoglycemia, which is low blood sugar. Your body is trying to tell you it needs an energy source and it needs one quick. (See previous paragraph.)

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Can you have too much sugar? Yes. And your body will tell you when it’s had enough or too much; it will also cleanse on it’s own what it doesn’t need. Do different bodies need different levels of sugar? Yes. Do you need to control and limit how much you take in? No. (Unless you have diabetes! Then please, please take care of yourself!) You have to listen to your body. If you’re crashing all the time or often feel sluggish, then you probably need to look the variety in your diet. Make sure you’re getting plenty of protein, fats, and fiber with your sweet stuff, and make sure you are getting plenty of quality sleep. Check in with your mental health too. Stress, anxiety, and depression are big culprits of fatigue and general not feeling well.

You guys, it’s okay to love sugar and eat it. We were created to enjoy all of our food, including sugar. Two of my sweetest pleasures is soft, freshly baked chocolate cake with gooey chocolate frosting; the other is the sweet, fizzy crispness of ice cold Coca Cola. If sugar is like cocaine, then so is hearing the sound of your baby giggling, or the cozy pleasure you feel on a cold winter evening in front of the fire, or the warmth you feel snuggling under the covers with your sweetie. All these things light up the pleasure center, an amazing little gift God put into our brains when he created us, and are meant to be enjoyed.  So enjoy!

 

 

 

 

How psychological abuse affects your body

*Warning: While any form of abuse will absolutely affect your physical body, this post focuses mainly on domestic abuse. The following information may be triggering if you are recovering from abuse, dealing with PTSD resulting from abuse, or are currently experiencing abuse. Please please take care of yourself, which could mean anything from not reading this post to connecting with your mental health professional. There are resources at the end of this post for getting help.*

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No woman should ever have to suffer the wrath of her spouse or partner or loved one. I’ve experienced abuse in my own life, from both a family member and an ex-boyfriend. Also, a dear family member was murdered this year in an act of domestic violence. To say I am familiar with the topic is an understatement. Since entering anorexia recovery in 2014, I’ve had to face and heal from the psychological effects of abuse and understand how it affected my physical body and contributed to my eating disorder.

When we talk about domestic abuse, we usually think of the violent, physical assault that leaves obvious marks to the body. Another kind of abuse that is just as devastating because the damage is so insidious and cruelly clever is psychological abuse. This includes both mental and emotional abuse. It’s not nearly as obvious on the outside because there are no bruises, but both the mind and body are experiencing trauma and responding internally.

Psychological abuse is the same as physical abuse except instead of hitting, punching, throwing, or kicking, the abuser wields control using emotions, criticism, insulting words and threats, blame, belittling, tracking, and name calling. Over time, without even realizing it’s happening, you are living in a constant and heightened state of anxiety, low self esteem, doubt, and fear of wrong-doing. Yet you feel “normal.” Especially in the times your abuser is loving and kind. If you’ve ever heard yourself say “He’s great sometimes and even fun when he isn’t mad or upset. So it isn’t always bad,” then there is a good chance you are in a “normalized” abusive relationship.

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It’s exhausting and stressful to tend to life, (children, housework, career work, school and school work, social connections, financial responsibilities, volunteering, errands, etc.) while also trying to maintain the expectations of an abuser. Living with an abuser requires constant management and tempering of the environment so as to not upset the abuser OR in reaction to your abuser when he is upset (and likely blaming you for whatever is upsetting him). Constantly walking on eggshells to appease an abuser distracts and disconnects you from your own body and emotions.

Psychological abuse causes a plethora of physical and mental ailments, including but not limited to, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, adrenal fatigue , over/under eating, sleep deprivation, gastrointestinal upset, and depression.  You may not understand why you have aches and pains all the time, trouble with your skin (dry skin, acne breakouts, rashes), constant tiredness, weight gain or weight loss, or repeated illness. It’s easy to blame yourself, that maybe you need to eat better, exercise more, go on a diet or a cleanse. What’s really happening, though, is your body is trying to tell you that you’re stressed, there are emotions that need processing, and it needs rest. Taking care of yourself is not an option in an abusive relationship because all your effort is pored into taking care of the abuser and what he expects of you. Depending on how damaged your self-esteem is, you may even feel like you don’t deserve to take care of yourself or you aren’t even worth that precious care.

For the record, and whether you believe me or not, you do deserve self-love and you are worth the investment of time and care.

The first step to getting healthy is not a diet but getting help. It’s easy for people around you to say “Just leave. Why do you stay?” But I know from experience, it’s not that easy. Where are you going to go if your abuser has tabs on you? You can’t do it by yourself. Here are some suggestions to get you moving toward healing:

For immediate help and counsel:

OR

Seek counsel from a local domestic abuse therapist.

Seek refuge in a local woman’s shelter.

Reach out to a pastor at a local church.

Your body is talking to you, warning you, and trying to protect you as you endure abuse and the psychological effects it’s having on your mind and heart. Not because you are doing anything wrong, but because someone else is doing wrong to you.

Much love,

Leanne

Dear God, please don’t make me fat

If you trust God with your life, then you can trust Him with your body. And I don’t mean by going on one of those “biblical diets.”

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In November 2014 I told my therapist that I felt like God was going to ask me to let go of something very precious to me. I feared it was my daughter. As I began the process of anorexia recovery, I realized what He was asking me to surrender was my eating disorder. In another tearful session I confessed to my counselor that I had come to a place of acceptance if God wanted my daughter, but there’s no way I could let go of anorexia. Did I really care about my eating disorder more than my daughter?

Where did I think my daughter would go if I surrendered her? To heaven, of course. She’d be cared for in the hands of God, and I trust God. But to let go of anorexia would mean risking getting fat, and that would mean everyday suffering, feeling unacceptable, ugly, imperfect. No way did I trust God with my body.

My therapist reassured me that I wasn’t a bad mother. Rather my eating disorder was telling me terrible lies and manipulating my mind.

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Somehow we’ve gotten into the habit of placing our body trust in the hands of culture and media. God gets to have our trust and faith about life… kids, finances, marriage, decisions, tragedies, etc. When it comes to our bodies, however, we’re more like “Dear God, please don’t make me fat.” We take back the control and decide what weight we want to be, what diet we want to try, what foods we will or will not eat, and what exercise regime we’re going to use to force our body into the shape we desire. These decisions are based upon the body image expectations set by culture, which, simply put, says one must be skinny to be healthy, acceptable, beautiful, etc.  But I submit to you a new perspective:

If you believe God created you

and

You believe God has a plan for your life

and

You believe He knows you better than anyone

then

you can believe that God has given you the exact right body.

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Because God is the creator of you and your body, you don’t need to need to take the reins to make your body different. What’s cool about God is he’s already equipped you with the ability to feed and take care of yourself without the outside influence of the world. The way you stay healthy is connecting to and listening to the body God created for you. The same way you pray and listen for God’s voice in all other areas of your life is the same way you can connect with and listen to your body.

Turn off the media, turn off the outside voices of friends and family. Be still and know the body you are in is made by God.  Remember that God doesn’t think you’re fat. Tune into that quiet space outside your thoughts yet inside your intuition and connect with your body. Start with your breath and slowly work your way down your physical self. What do you feel, what do you sense, what do you love, what do you hate, what do you hear?

I learned to connect to my body through Yoga. It’s a quiet, meditative practice that forced me to pay attention to the most fundamental parts of my physical being. I’ve learned to appreciate my feet because they hold me up through the weight of my days. I’ve learned how strong and able my arms and legs are to carry the loads life hands me (including laundry! 😀 ). I’ve learned the value of a calming, centering breath. Before, during, and after my practice I say prayers of thanks, prayers of confusion, prayers of frustration about my body. I talk to God and ask him me to teach me what is so wonderful about my body. I’ve learned how to connect with both grief and joy about my body and become vulnerable in God’s presence. I’ve learned how to listen to God through connecting with my physical body.

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Through connection you become aware of how amazing you body is, how it communicates with you about everything from hunger, to the movement it needs, to the rest it wants, to the unprocessed emotions it needs to release. And in this process a spark of appreciation ignites that grows into a burning love for this physical body God has given you. Over time you begin to see how culture’s expectations don’t fit with your body. And it isn’t because there’s anything wrong with you; it’s culture that is wrong. I can tell you that what you already have is SO much better that what you or media could ever force your body to be.

If you believe God answers your prayers

then

give trust back to God and pray: Lord, teach me to connect with my body. Let me see, hear, and understand You through this body. Help me learn how to love myself as I am–as You see me. Let my body image bear the image which with You created me. Quiet the voices of outside influence and the doubt that fuels my body dissatisfaction. Teach me to be intuitively healthy, to enjoy food, to find the movement my body thrives in. Thank you for this body and the things it does for me and for You, even though I don’t really understand how it works. Lord, I trust you with my life and my body.   

If you trust God with your life, then you can trust God with your body.

Why diets don’t work

We’ve all heard that “diets don’t work,” but do you know why? First let’s go over the definition of diet.

Dieting is any eating habit that involves the restriction or elimination of nutrients and/or the control, counting, and restriction of calories. Point systems are diets because the program has pre-restricted the calories for you; these are counted calories disguised as point values.

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Here’s why diets don’t work.

Metabolism Damage

When you restrict calories and nutrients you lose weight. This is why diets are so attractive on the surface and seem like they work. The problem is that internally your body goes into “deprivation mode,” craving the nutrients it’s missing and slowing the metabolism way down so as to store energy for crucial functions, such as fueling your heart and brain. When you “give in” to those cravings, the metabolism is slow to use the energy– one because it’s sluggish and two your body naturally wants to use the energy sparingly since it doesn’t know when it’s going to get those nutrients again. Often you won’t feel good eating something of which you’ve deprived yourself (like sugar or bread) thus blaming the food,  when really it’s your body not responding well because it’s broken.

When I went through the re-feeding process during anorexia recovery, I felt physically ill for about eight weeks while my metabolism re-learned how to accept and process nutrients again. It was another several months before my body found homeostasis.

Yo-yo dieting or chronic dieting puts the body in constant deprivation mode (also called starvation mode) and gives the body no semblance of normal. It can’t settle into a homeostasis where the flow of nutrients to body function is rhythmic and natural. Instead, dieting trains the body to reserve the nutrients and keep the metabolism slow so as to store energy for internal functions. Simply speaking, you hold on to the weight. The body isn’t sure when it’s going to get those nutrients again and it has systems and processes to run, so it’s going to store calories and use them wisely.

Here’s a replicated visual my eating disorder therapist showed me

 

Person A and Person B are both born at the same time. As they grow, they gain weight accordingly. Person A doesn’t diet at all, and over time her body settles into a consistent weight with minor (and natural) fluctuations.

Person B begins dieting and her weight drops. Each dip in the graph represents a diet with a corresponding weight drop. After each diet, though, her weight goes back up, increasing just a little more each time and never finding a consistent stability.

At the end of life, person B dies not only at a higher weight than non-dieter A but also at a higher weight than what her original weight before she started dieting.  If you are a dieter, have you sometimes noticed when the weight comes back, it’s often just a little more than the last time you put the weight back on? It’s not because you are a bad person who has a problem with self control. It’s because your body is trying to protect you, trained to operate in deprivation mode and with a broken metabolism.

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Distorted Body Cues

Dieting forces you to go against your body’s natural cues. When you’re hungry a diet will keep you confined from feeding your body what it needs. Diets say:

a) You can’t eat because it isn’t time.

b) You can’t eat the thing you are craving because it’s “bad.”

c) You can’t eat the amount you need because it’s “too much.”

The body and brain become confused.

Body says: “I’m hungry. I need (crave) a plate of meaty pasta and a slice of cherry pie. Pasta will give me long-term fuel; the meat will give me stamina; the cherry pie will give me the quick spark and pleasure to start the refueling process for all systems.”

Brain says: “Nope. You’re on a no-carb, no-sugar diet. You’re getting a chicken salad with no cheese and a sugar-free flavored water. You need better discipline. Cherry pie? What are thinking, fatty?”

Body says: “Hmm? Okay, so you’re giving me fiber, water, and a tiny bit of protein. I’ll do my best but don’t be surprised when I’m sluggish and you’re cranky.”

Binge eating happens when we’re in deprivation mode because the body is so desperate for nutrients we’re not paying attention to when the body says “Enough!”  Confused hunger and fullness cues become normal.

Some people experience the opposite problem where it seems like it takes more food to get full and that’s because the brain isn’t tuned in with what fullness actually feels like for their body. There are a plethora of reasons why some people eat more than they need (emotions, distractions, strict rules such as “must eat everything on my plate,” distorted view of portion sizes, etc.)

The bottom line is this: Dieting goes against your body’s natural biology. Your body knows what weight it wants to be, when it’s hungry, when it’s full, and what food it needs. It gives you all the cues to let you know what you need.

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It’s not a program. Or a lifestyle change. Its tapping back into your innate ability to feed yourself well.

If you are in the midst of a vicious dieting cycle or considering dieting at all, I encourage you to learn more from the book shown on the left here (not an affiliate link, nor am I affiliated with the authors in any way). It was introduced to me my first week of recovery, though it took  me months to learn how to apply it because I was so disordered in my habits and beliefs. Everyone at any size can find their homeostasis again, including you. No more diets, okay? You’re life is way too valuable and diets aren’t worth the sacrifice. <3

 

What to do when you’re feeling fat

Fat isn’t a feeling.

I cannot count the number of times I have heard myself say and think, “Ugh. I feel fat.” This statement was usually followed by a flow of self-abusive thoughts about how undisciplined my eating habits were, how lazy I was, and how ugly I was. Then I would vow to get my lazy-ass running harder, longer, and farther and vow to cut more calories, more sugar, and more fat. I would get my act together and be healthier!

Can you relate?

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What I’ve learned is “fat” isn’t a feeling. Sad, inadequate, depressed, embarrassed, unworthy, stupid, humiliated, grief… these are feelings. They are hard, uncomfortable emotions to feel and explore.

It’s actually easier to project hard feelings outward onto the body because we have a certain amount of control of our body. Going back on a diet or trying a brand new diet gives fresh hope that if we look better then we’ll feel better. Trying out a new exercise regimen, complete with a cute new outfit, shiny new gear, and hot new shoes gives us a buzz of excitement that suppresses the hard emotions. It’s analogous to the buzz you get when you’ve imbibed on just enough wine to make you giddy and relaxed, forgetting the woes of the day.  New diet, new gear, new workout stuff is just enough control to make you giddy and charged, forgetting the woes of the real feelings that are bubbling underneath the surface.

Unfortunately, the buzz wears off. And the feelings you were trying to ignore are still heavy and growing worse. The diet is hard, the exercise sucks, and the shine of the new workout stuff grows dull;  you blame yourself for not being disciplined enough and motivated enough. Another diet failed. Unworthiness, sadness, frustration, take over. You feel fat. Again.

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When you’re feeling fat remember fat isn’t a feeling. Find a space where you can sit in silence and stillness. Close your eyes and identify actual emotions. You’re likely feeling more than one. For me I was often feeling unworthy, embarrassed, and stupid. Through therapy and practice I learned to just sit in those feelings and feel them. I cried. I raged in anger. I went to bed (even if it was 10:30 in the morning.) I wrote in my journal. I prayed. Once I spent an entire day lying on my living room floor in front of the fireplace. I didn’t get up until my kids came home from school. And I felt so much better!

Feelings have to be acknowledged and felt at the roots in order for self-love and body satisfaction to grow. You’ll be amazed how much grace you’ll have for your body when you aren’t using your body to suppress emotions.

May you find peace and love within yourself this week, my friends.