18 October 2008

Think you have a "sweet tooth?" Maybe you really do.

We all love to indulge in the occasional chocolate, ice cream, and sticky dessert, but for some of us, "occasional" is unacceptable. "Why is that," you ask? "Isn't 'moderation' best?"

My usual knee-jerk answer would be "no!" For anyone who has suffered any type of eating disorder, I would say that believing you could eat addictive foods like sweets 'once in a while' is like telling the alcoholic that he/she could have an occasional drink. It's really not a good idea.

But what about those who are just trying to cut back on sugar, calories, and carbs for weight loss and health reasons, and don't have any real addictive tendencies (or so they don't believe they do anyway)? Couldn't they just cut back on sugar and have it once in a while as a "treat?"

A new study that was published in the October 18 issue of Science magazine says that some people have less dopamine response to chocolate and sweets than others. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that assists in brain function but can also act as a kind of pleasure hormone, similarly to endorphines. Substances found in chocolate, such as phenylethylamine, theobromine, anandamide and tryptophan trigger dopamine and other mood enhancing neurotransmitters to be released in the brain. For some individuals, however, the dopamine response and feeling of pleasure has become diminished over time, which is why it is suggested that many people may overeat - trying to fulfill the pleasure they once had in what was once an occasional indulgence.

The authors of this study admimisted a chocolate milkshake to a group of obese and thin women. It was found that the obese women had less of a response in the striatum - the part of the brain where the 'reward system' lies. This diminished response leaves individuals wanting more - not because they are already enjoying it, but because they haven't yet enjoyed it. In other words, these researchers are beginning to see the direct physiological parallels between overeating and other addictions, such as smoking, alcoholism, and other drug use.

The answer?
  • Like any other addiction, quit cold turkey.
  • Don't allow your body to get used to eating really high sugar foods because once you make it a habit, it is difficult to stop.
  • Cutting down on sweets will not get rid of the cravings, but after quitting altogether you will see your cravings diminish once and for all.
  • Once you have eliminated your cravings, enjoy a REAL treat like something that is a treat for your body - fresh seasonal fruit. Apples are at their peak in flavor and variety right now. Indulge in a honey crisp, or a winesap, or one of the other rare varieties of local apples in your region.
Don't fall for the "moderation" argument. And don't fall for the "treat yourself" argument either. Those are marketing schemes. If something is bad for you, it's not treating yourself to put it into your body. That's punishment.

Here's another interesting article on this subject:
Carbohydrates are Addicitve


mary(Crone) said...

I'm going to hang that last paragraph in my kitchen. I have huge cravings for sweet things, particularly chocolate. Death to diabetics. At least it's not all in my head. heh. Miss you.

The Life of Kiley said...

I could not face a life without chocolate or sweet things. I try to be "moderate" about it. Am I just kidding myself? On another sweet note... thanks for trying my juice and leaving that sweet comment. I spent the weekend in vegas and experience separation anxiety from my juicer. Now I'm back and trying to rinse the layer of scum off my being. best,

Stephanie said...

I miss you too, Mary.

Stephanie said...

Nicole, I'm still not sure whether we're kidding ourselves or not. I'm constantly questioning the whole moderation issue, which is why I really liked this article. I'll stick with the fruit for now!

Henrike said...

Seriously, I used to eat chocolate like sandwiches and lived on pretty high sugar and high salty stuff for few years. Back then I was doing athletics several hours a day so weight wise my unhealthy life style didn’t show and as far as I was concerned all was just fine. Then with changing circumstances I also slowly started to change my eating patterns over the years which wasn’t always easy because indeed I was craving for those things. It was then that I started to see how unhealthy I was really living. So I mainly but not only changed WHAT I ate but that also included learning to have breakfast and not just starting round noon or 2 pm. I literally had to learn to eat fruit and vegetables but also to feel the difference again between being hungry and craving. I still do eat something sweet once in a while but I never feel like wanting more the way I did back then anymore and I also never feel the need to buy chocolates or any other high sugar product.

I always wonder why indeed they only put warnings on cigarette boxes about the damage smoking can cause when in fact things like alcohol and certain food within the ‘right’ person can be as damaging. And indeed its is difficult to stop because both the mind and body get addicted.

“believing you could eat addictive foods like sweets 'once in a while' is like telling the alcoholic that he/she could have an occasional drink.”

I really like that line because I think it is true. Sometimes when I was looking into the differences of trying to quit drinking and trying to get a grip on an eating problem and the difficulties in doing so I thought that one big difference is that when you address food issues people cannot just avoid it altogether – we need to eat but we do not need to drink any alcohol in order to live. So that already makes it harder for people because food is one of the most immediate and easiest accessible “substances”. And often people grow up being taught it is treating yourself and a lot (that I know of) later use it to comfort themselves without realising that the substances have such an effect on their system causing it to become addicted. And then the more quantities are needed which leads to other health problems as they continue to give in to the cravings.

Sorry for my babbling - once again a great blog with a lot of useful information! :)

Stephanie said...

Henrike, you bring up such important and sensitive points about some of the dilemmas we face with our own eating habits. The whole sugar addiction thing I know to be true in my own experiences. It was much easier for me to simply abstain from eating "trigger foods" than try to just cut back. I know this is true for others too who have the tendency to overindulge in sweets.

What I found important about this article though, is that it pointed out that it isn't necessarily a psychological "self control" issue, but that there are very real physiological responses in the brain that may cause us to overeat. Perhaps this information will take some of the shame away from people who believe they have serious weaknesses.

I'm not sure that I would want to see such extreme regulatory measures put on food like warning labels, although it would be nice if there were certain policies that made it more difficult and expensive for junk food manufacturers to develop, sell, and market their foods - especially to children.

You are so right about not being able to "quit" food. We need food to live and for that reason, need to develop healthy and joyous relationships with the food we do eat. That is why for many of us, it is so important that we choose our menus wisely. It certainly shouldn't feel like deprivation. It should feel satisfying and give us a sense of well being.

A very wise Buddhist nun once told me that tempting foods like sugary sweets had a fleeting satisfaction. They were only exciting for the moment they were on your tongue. As soon as you swallowed, the fun was gone and left you wanting more. And I believe she was right. I don't ever feel very "good" after eating ice cream. I either feel full and tired or I really do want more.

The difference between that and filling your body with natural wholesome food is a world of difference. You feel happy, satiated, and calm. That is why you will find monks and other devout religious figures following very strict diets - in order to treat their bodies as temples and be able to reach that spiritual place of well being.

Today I ate a ripe and juicy persimmon. It was like a small, sweet miracle.

josie said...

This is fascinating. I wonder if that's why I can eat 80% cocoa now. I remember when I was young I couldn't stand the bitter in it but as I became diabetic and had to cut back on the sugar I started eating the solid chocolate. Now the dark stuff is a wonderful treat for me. It must be the chemicals in the brain making me enjoy it instead of the tastebuds.

I tasted a persimmon once and it wa the most chalky bitter thing ever. Maybe I should try one again.

Stephanie said...

Hey Josie, that's a good question. Are the taste buds sending a signal to the brain, or is the brain sending the signal to the taste buds? I'm guessing that it's a twofold process - that the brains ability to react to the pleasure substances in foods diminishes as it becomes overly accustomed to them, and the taste buds also seem to deaden when we over stimulate them with sweet as well as salty foods. That is my lay opinion though. Perhaps there is a more direct relationship. This study is actually still in progress, so it will be interesting to see if any other conclusions will be published.

Ha ha!! Be careful with persimmons. If they're not ripe, they make your tongue feel like it's shriveling up and turning to sand. The one I ate yesterday was overly ripe and juicy and delicious. If you try it again, make sure it's soft and a little mushy. : )

Jacey said...

No.. .I don't think my taste buds deaden ever.... not even a little bit..*snicker* I think I could eat sugar all day and they would still be perky !! (That's my story and I'm sticking to it)

I've never tasted a sweet persimmon no matter how mushy it was. Maybe there are different kinds... and the kinds that grow here are the bitter kind. They make a great pudding though... after you throw in the sugar and all the other good stuff...lol.. I mean... bad stuff.

Stephanie said...

Jacey!! Who am I to argue with the cupcake baker extraordinaire? Argh. You and I should never get together when I'm PMS. Ha ha!!!

So, I had two different types of persimmons this week (they're everywhere in California this time of year). One was the Fuyu, the kind you can eat right away. They are the short round ones, and are crispy and always sweet. The other is the Hachiya. It's got the lightly more oblong shape. This is the one you cannot eat if it isn't ripe. If you do, it is bitter and makes your tongue shrivel due to the high level of tanins. Once it is a little mushy though, it is intensely sweet and juicy. I'm sorry you had a bad persimmon experience. I would encourage you to try them again when they are ripe and skip the sugar (or not!!). xoxox