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Brainwashed by Sugar

Posted: February 19, 2014
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Candy, cookies, cupcakes, ice cream, etc.; the traditional sweets that come to mind when we think about what we can't eat as part of a no sugar challenge.

For the most part, we already know which products are "traditional sweets", and know we shouldn’t be eating them…but we do it anyway!  Why? You work too hard to be brainwashed by sugar, but in your brain is where the answers lie. It's all in your head, both literally and figuratively.

Consuming sugar elicits multiple chemical responses in the brain, which make you feel good and crave more.  Check out this great short video from the folks at TED for an easy-to-understand summary.

This physical response in the brain, along with some societal influence, helps explain the psychological relationship we have with desserts and sweet treats.  For many of us, we see them as a reward.  You tell yourself you deserve that cookie or brownie because you went on a long run, or busted your tail on today’s Grind!  But do you really want to undo all of your hard work, taking two steps forward and one step back?  It’s time to rethink that logic, and your overall relationship with food.  Remember, food is fuel for your body; it’s not a reward and punishment system.

Let’s be a little more strategic with our rewards.  Instead of thinking day-to-day, set a slightly longer term goal.  It doesn’t have to take a month to achieve (although those goals are great too).  Maybe the goal is to come to Farmgirlfit 3 days, or 4 days, next week and give your absolute best effort each day, no matter your mood or other circumstances.  If you do that successfully, reward yourself with that new workout top you’ve been eyeing, or some other indulgence like a manicure or pedicure.  Maybe an indulgence that actually benefits your body, like a massage!

Besides the idea of sweet rewards, we also have this notion that a day’s meals aren’t complete until we get dessert – we need something sweet after dinner and before bed.  Truthfully, just before bed is the worst time to have sugar.  Because of the immediate sugar “high” and inevitable crash, it leads to restless sleep.  Plus, we’ve learned that sugar in the body is either burned as energy, or stored as fat.  If you’re going straight to bed, your body doesn’t need the energy, so guess what, it gets stored as fat!

Habits, of course, are hard to break, and our goal is to create a lifestyle change, something maintainable for the long haul.  So, next time you’re craving a sweet after dinner, or any other time of day, try one of these alternatives.  Most contain tryptophan, so may actually help you sleep better.  This amino acid, which you’ve heard about in turkey, is actually found in lots of other foods.  It produces serotonin, the brain chemical responsible for feelings of relaxation and well-being.

  • Handful or 2 of almonds or mixed nuts (watch salt)
  • 1 tablespoon of almond or peanut butter (no sugar added)
  • Half banana or half apple (sliced) with a tablespoon of a nut butter
  • Half apple sliced and sprinkled with cinnamon
  • Stalk or 2 of celery spread with a tablespoon of nut butter
  • Not sweet, but contain tryptophan: white meat (pork, chicken, turkey, fish), eggs, mushrooms, and broccoli
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