Right. We have had a month from hell. End of winter has gone down with a bang: vomiting bug, flu, you name it. Not sparing the big nor the little people. I remember one of those evenings: family time after dinner. I am there lying on the playmat, trying to think when was the last time I was so exhausted (no worries, my kids did not really notice: the 5 year old was drawing something with her dad, while the little man was bouncing a ball off my head). Still quite sick, sleep deprived by the equally sick 1 year old and trying to maintain the work backlog in control. So there I am, incapable to move, digging deep into my wisdom, searching for some ideas of a magical spell or potion that could lift me up, just a little bit… and THEN it HAPPENED. I suddenly remembered that my dear husband brought in some milk chocolate and put it on top of the microwave.
Recently I have been doing a lot of research on sugar and healthy nutrition concept (on purpose I am not using the word diet as it is now associated too much with the idea of losing weight). So with an astonishment I was observing how my own brain had immediately reacted to the concept of chocolate, not even tasting it yet. My mood did experience a sudden lift. I felt better in a split of a second, then picked myself up from the floor and found the microwave…
The second wave came with the consumption of the good itself. When I try to remember that moment, it actually did have a bit of supernatural notion about it. And this is when I really understood the power of SUGAR.
So here is what actually happened to me in that moment.
I am sure you have heard about dopamine.
Dopamine is a molecule that is involved in control of our reward and pleasure center in our brain. It helps regulate emotional responses and movement. It will make us not only see reward but take action and move towards it. And here is the trick: sugar and dopamine are like Tom and Jerry, Thelma and Louise or Brad and Angelina.
When we consume sugar rich food a massive amount of dopamine is released by our brain, flooding us with a wave of pleasure. Tension is released, a new dose of energy is accompanied by a swing of happiness. It will actually be triggered even before the consumption, to lead us to the reward itself.
Well, on that occasion it did actually help me literally get up from the floor and survive the rest of the evening with a little bit of dignity. But it did make me think how powerful this combination can be long term and how easily this can close its vicious circle on anyone. It is very easy to start looking for these dopamine highs. And what happens next? If we keep on delivering sugar frequently and generously the dopamine receptors with start to down-regulate, as if turning down the volume knob when music gets too loud. So to get the same ‘high’ effect, you need to increase the dosage. This is one of the reasons there is such a gap in sweetness perception between people regularly consuming sugar and those that abstain.
Of course dopamine release is not the only ‘chocolate’ effect. I have already written a bit about it in my Why a treat usually ends up with a… trick? post, where high sugar means energy excess, insulin rise, with a bomb of stress hormones attached. We hit the ground quite hard afterwards, but while on the wave we are the kings of the world.
To be clear: I am not interested in losing weight. But I am definitely cultivating my own wider space for food awareness. More and more I see that the objectives of an individual who wants to maintain healthy diet do not necessarily meet the objectives of a high volume vendor. At the same time I see how easily, in times of need, it is to go down the route of a ‘quick fix’. And these ‘quick fixes’ can unnoticeably become habits embedded into our daily routines influencing not only our health but adding an additional edge to our temperament.
And the last one has really made me think.
Could I actually become a milder version of myself? More patient, less edgy, more loving, less restless? Well, maybe it is time to find out. I officially announce the month of April my own sugar free month. Wish me luck!
PS. Have you tried yourself? Would love to hear your experiences!