Category Archives: Nutrition

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!

 

 

 

 

Carbs don’t make you fat

I remember when I first heard this statement from my dietitian; I looked at her as if she’d just told me humans grow antlers. It was an absurd statement. Everybody knows carbs make you fat, right? That’s what the health and fitness industry shouts at us every day.

It’s a lie.

The truth is: carbs don’t make you fat. Carbohydrates are your body’s number one source for fuel and energy. Whether in the form of simple sugars (found in fruits, vegetables, table sugar, honey, etc.) or in more complex forms (such as whole grains, pastas, potatoes, etc.), carbohydrates are specifically needed for brain and body function (including at the cellular level).

Cutting carbs from your diet is dangerous and counterproductive for weight management. The sugar cravings we’re told to control and replace with “healthier” foods, like kale or carrots, are not a result of your body being “addicted” to sugar. The craving for sugar is a biological signal from your body that it needs fuel.  The more you cut carbs, the stronger the cravings will become. And the more you ignore those signals, the lower your blood sugar drops and you become weak, shaky, fatigued, irritable, dizzy, and nauseous. Over time living with consistently low blood sugar takes a toll on your body causing poor sleep, moodiness, chronic headaches, and stress on your heart.  Not to mention cutting carbohydrates from your diet causes dysfunction of your metabolism. As your body tries to function with a lack of fuel, the metabolism slows to a crawl in order to preserve energy.  Over time your body goes into survival or “deprivation” mode.  This means your body will shut down or reduce crucial body functions, like hormone function, digestion, and blood circulation so it can send what little energy it is getting to the heart and brain.

By the way, if you “give in” to a craving after restricting for so long, it’s hard to hear or feel when your body signals that is has had enough of whatever you are eating. Have you ever been so thirsty that you chug a trough of water without breathing, refill your cup several times, and then a few minutes later feel like a swollen water balloon? You drink too much too fast giving your body zero chance to process and turn off the “thirsty” signal, leaving you sloshing around and peeing the excess the rest of the day. The same principle applies to food. When you deprive your body of any nutrient, especially sugar, you’re likely to over-eat the amount your body actually needs, thus causing discomfort and digestive upset… and lots of guilt or shame.

Your body needs ALL nutrients, especially carbohydrates. One of the most vital things I learned in eating disorder recovery is the importance of variety over “balance.” Our culture is strict about “eating a balanced diet,” yet it also encourages cutting carbs, fats, and calories (such a confusing and contradictory message!) However, when you eat a diet filled with a variety of fruits, veggies, grains, sweets, dairy, proteins and fat in a variety of different forms, balance naturally happens. You don’t even have to think or wonder about whether your diet is balanced or not.

How do you know if you are eating a good variety? Your body will absolutely tell you. Focus in on what sounds good. Does a salad really sound good or does it sound like the “healthier choice” over the burrito? If the burrito sounds better, honor your body’s request. Are you really not hungry or are you just trying to ignore the hunger because you’ve “already had those calories”? If you’re hungry, you need to eat and eat what sounds good.

Your body won’t ever ask you to eat more than it needs of any nutrient, including carbohydrates. Carbs don’t make you fat, so tune in and enjoy.

 

Sugar is not bad for you

The following information is not meant to diagnose, treat, or even suggest a medical condition. Always talk to your doctor about your health and any questions/concerns you have about your health and diet.  The statements made in this post are strictly what I learned in anorexia recovery from specialists who worked hard to keep my alive after I starved myself to near death, and what I have subsequently experienced on my road to personal health. If the information doesn’t resonate with you, that’s okay. If it helps you, great. Enjoy!

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The human body runs on sugar.  Sugar is an energy source, the main and most preferable energy source, that our bodies use for every bodily function from thinking and moving to digestion and hormone production. If the human body doesn’t have sugar, it doesn’t survive.

When I was in the thick of my disease, I strove to be sugar free, and what little sugar I did eat, I immediately “burned off” with exercise. I believed the lies that sugar was evil, and that I would be fat, unhealthy, and sick if I ate any.

Here are some general cultural beliefs about sugar and the biological truths from the body’s perspective that negate those beliefs.

Culture: The sugar crash is bad and you are bad for having eaten the sugar that is now making you crash.

Body: Because sugar is the body’s main energy source, that’s the first thing it burns to do anything. So the “sugar crash” is simply your body out of gas. What happens when you’re car is out of gas? It lurches, shakes and comes to a halt. What happens when your body is out of sugar–out of energy? You get the shakes, maybe a little lightheaded and you stop.

If you’re crashing it’s because your body needs more nutrients, especially sugar, to keep running. Crashing is a natural biological reaction to running out out energy and not a bad reaction to sugar. The sugar is not at fault.  To keep your body running longer and to avoid crashing, eat sugar with a little protein and fat. These three energy sources work together to give you energy and sustain it through whatever activity you’re demanding of your body.

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Culture: Sugar/carbs makes you fat.

Body: Carbs don’t make you fat. Carbohydrate is a fancy word for sugar.  I repeat. Sugar is an energy source, so it’s getting used all the time. If you are alive, your body is burning energy. You are using energy right now reading this sentence.

If you eat more sugar than your body needs, three things will happen. The body will:

1) excrete what it doesn’t need.

2) store some as fat.

3) tell you that it’s had enough. 

Don’t let number two scare you. Our bodies need fat for a plethora of body functions, including nutrient absorption. You can eat green and “healthy” all you want, but if you don’t have fat stores, your body isn’t absorbing those nutrients. Secondly, the body won’t store more fat than it needs. Once the body has had enough of any nutrient, it will tell you. It is imperative that you listen to what your body is asking for. Pay attention to those cravings and pay close attention to what doesn’t sound good. Oblige your body and respect it when it’s says, “I’m done” or “I need more.”

My body asks for potato chips. A lot. Culture says to eat carrots instead because those are healthier. Carrots have fiber, water, and vitamin A. When my body is craving potato chips, it’s asking for complex sugar (sugar with oomph) and salt. Carrots don’t  fit the bill and that’s why they don’t sound good nor do they satisfy me in a potato chip moment. I usually pair my potato chips with a protein–typically sardines because I love sardines. Why? Because it sounds good! And because I know my body will run a little longer and better with the added nutrients.

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Culture: Natural sugars are healthier than processed sugars.

Body: Sugar is sugar to the body. It reads it all as energy  and uses it all as energy. I want to shy away from muddling up your brain with a lesson in glucose, fructose, and sucrose because the chemistry and biology gets complicated. The bottom line is the body needs a variety of all three. You won’t function well if you’re only eating fruit and honey. Likewise your body won’t function well if you’re only feeding it candy and cake.

ApplepieSeveral weeks ago, I got a bunch of apples from a friend of mine. I went crazy in the kitchen, and for a week we ate apple pie, apple crisp and apple sauce. One day, none of that sounded good. For about five days my body wanted nothing to do with anything sweet. Not even honey turkey on my sandwich. My body had had enough sugar (fruit sugar and table sugar) and I listened. I wasn’t bad for eating all that sugar. I wasn’t unhealthy for eating all those treats. The sugar wasn’t evil for turning off my sweet tooth. I ate and I enjoyed; my body was happy and kindly told me when it had plenty to work with for a while. Simple as that.

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The human body is designed to run on a combination of all nutrients. Sugar is a necessary nutrient; sugar is not bad for you. What’s even cooler is the body comes with a built in communication system that tells you which foods it needs more of and which it needs less of so you don’t have to control, restrict or omit sugar. If you’ve had too much, which is what everyone worries about, your body will cue you in. The trick is to be in tune with your body and listen to what it’s telling you. That’s true health.

Enjoy your food today and eat what sounds good! <3

I beg you, please stop doing this

Healthy food or unhealthy food?

Please, please, stop using food as reward and punishment for your kidlets. I am guilty of this in the past with my own children–promises of treats if they’re good while I’m on the phone; bribery of yummy things to come for patience while we’re in the store; threatening no dessert if they don’t eat their veggies; warnings of no goodies if they don’t behave.

I hear it all around me from fellow frustrated parents: “No snack for you if you don’t listen.” “Uh-oh, I guess everyone else gets a treat except for you because you made a bad choice.”

Food, especially “treats,” seem like a handy piece of leverage when our nerves frayed. Food is an easy tool for parenting control, but it’s dangerous. The problems with using food as reward and punishment is it sends messages that can cause dangerous eating habits later.

  • Message: Food is a privilege and it must be earned, whether we’re hungry or not. Food is not a right; it’s a basic human need, especially for kiddos whose little bodies are constantly burning physical, mental, and emotional energy. They need constant refueling, and if that need is attached to strings, it causes dissonance between internal body cues and external rules. It’s confusing: “Do I eat when I’m hungry or do I have to wait until I’m good enough–meet all the requirements such that I’ve earned my ability to satisfy my need?”
  • Message:  Food says if I’m bad or good. First of all, placing foods on pedestals as “treats” or “special” makes them that much more desirable. Who doesn’t want a little piece of something super special? And if we earn it, then we must be special too. We’re so good! But what happens if we don’t eat the veggies and don’t earn the special reward? Over time, food starts becoming associated with shame and self-esteem. “I didn’t get ice cream with daddy because I was bad today.” Food becomes less about feeding the body and more of a tool to cope with feelings of value–whether overeating because “I deserve it” or restricting it because “I need more control.”

There’s another angle to consider when putting food itself into “good” and “bad” categories. To a child who doesn’t like peas, peas are bad; dessert is good. Yet, as parents we tend to send the message that peas are “good” for you; the dessert is special because it’s actually “bad” for you. Treats should only be eaten at certain times and under certain conditions. In our house, we used to call dessert foods “sometimes” foods. Food rules regarding what’s good and what’s bad is confusing and interrupts a child’s ability and confidence to read h/her body cues regarding hunger and what sounds good: “I’m hungry and a cookie sounds good. Mom says cookies aren’t good for me and that celery with peanut butter is healthier. I don’t like celery and not in the mood for peanut butter. I guess I’m not hungry.”

  • Message: Eating means following rules and ignoring your body. As an adult do you typically eat food you don’t like? When’s the last time you forced yourself to eat tomatoes, even though tomatoes make you gag, simply because they’re “good” for you? I hate Lima beans and I won’t eat them if you paid me. Lima beans are chock full of amazing nutrients and I couldn’t care less. If my dinner order comes with Lima beans, I will substitute them out for something else, probably french fries.

Forcing your kiddo–using dessert as leverage–to eat everything on h/her plate or certain items because it’s “healthy” sets faulty internal rules: a) if I’m full, I still have to keep eating because there’s food on my plate; b) I have to eat things I don’t like in order to be healthy; c) certain food rules apply to certain people. Grown ups can/cannot eat foods as they choose; Tommy is allowed to pick off his tomatoes, but I’m not; in order to eat foods l love, I must endure foods I hate.

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Kids are intuitive eaters by nature. However, when we use food as reward and punishment for control, nature takes a back seat and food habits are formed based on rules and emotional feelings instead. This is so dangerous and can lead to disordered eating habits that will have health implications. Good eating habits start when kids are kids. If you’d like information on  about developing healthy eating habits for your family, I highly recommend the Ellyn Satter Institute. When I went into recovery for anorexia, I was introduced to Ellyn Satter to help incorporate new habits for my whole family. Anorexia didn’t just harm me, it was harming my sweet kidlets too.