Who here likes desserts? Chocolate? Ice cream? Cookies? There are likely only a few people reading this who would say they could care less about sweets. If you are one of those people, lucky you!
But if you’re not. You may have often wondered: why is it that I can’t resist sweets, even when I know they’re not healthy….?
Today, I’m going to dive into a topic I cover in my book: my #1 fundamental food practice.
We are Wired for the Sweet Stuff
Our brains are wired to be attracted to sugar. Hundreds of years ago, when humans looked for food, they found mainly vegetables, nuts, seeds, and, only occasionally, a sugary dense food source like honey. Honey was rare, scarce, and sought after – and when someone was lucky enough to find it, they’d have to eat as much as possible for as long as possible before it went bad.
Fast-forward hundreds of years to the present day. There’s plenty of honey to go around, but when your mind sees sweets, it still says: “Binge on that!”
Essentially, your inability to resist sweets isn’t really your fault. This sugar craving is hardwired in.
The problem is that today, sugar is available everywhere and anytime; it is at your disposal 24/7. And thanks to big food companies, the refining process makes sugary foods even more addictive, resulting in the fact that most people’s sugar intake is higher than they realize. It’s no wonder that many people identify as addictive eaters, myself included. The addictive part of your brain gets stimulated too often when your blood glucose gets spiked often. Once you start, it can feel impossible to stop. Consuming sugar and highly processed foods frequently during the day depletes your dopamine receptors, resulting in you needing to eat more or even sweeter things next time to get the same dopamine hit as last time – this is the frustrating addictive cycle of eating in action.
But I’m here to tell you that the cycle can be broken!
Next steps for happier beings
Change your food shopping and eating habits. Try buying and eating more whole, natural foods, the kind of food that spoils after a few days, the kind of food which is not addictive…I mean, I’ve never heard anyone say: “When I eat kale, I’m out of control!” “I just can’t stop eating this lettuce.” “Don’t put that broccoli in front of me, I’m too tempted.” You get the gist. The availability of ‘real foods’ in the house is crucial to being able to reach for a healthier sweet snack – like berries, as opposed to a cookie.
Understand the neurochemistry. With less sugar and processed foods, your dopamine receptors regenerate, your “bad cravings” subside, and you’re able to feel better naturally. Yes, sugar intake might give you a boost, temporarily, but have you ever felt that crash after? Be mindful that eating less sugar can increase your overall energy in the long run, and in a sustainable way. Don’t feed the craving, feed your well-being.
Pay attention to when and why you’re eating. Did you go for that snack or sweet because you’re feeling anxious? Stressed or sad? Emotional eating can feel comforting in the moment, but in the long run it has the opposite effect on your overall well-being.
Replace your emotional eating habit with another habit. Can you create a tiny habit of postponing your next bite by journaling your emotions? Start with just “negotiating with yourself“ that you will delay eating for those minutes. Assure your mind that you will still reach out for the next snack, if you have to. But, for now the expectation is to just interfere with your sabotaging mind, which signals to you that you “must eat that snack right now – or else.” So pick a small habit, it can be journaling, or it can be doing dishes. The goal is to create a bigger gap between the stimuli (craving) and response (eating). This is a great mental hack in the process of showing yourself you have more control over your eating.
Celebrate any tiny habit change you were able to accomplish. Look for the positive emotion you feel when you are able to follow your plan. (Do not dwell on the days it didn’t go your way!). Remember that the immediate attachment of positive emotions becomes that celebration piece to help reinforce a habit. And a good eating habit is no different. Celebrate your tiny wins!