The holidays are officially here with the celebration of Thanksgiving, the official kick-off for the holiday season. Like many, you may have mixed feelings of joyous expectation on the one hand, and dread on the other wishing you could “enjoy” the holidays this year without stalling your healthy-eating and exercise goals – or feeling emotionally drained by the demands and expectations of family and the season.

Perhaps you’ve worked hard to build your esteem and confidence, and now the thought of meeting one or more of your relatives at gatherings fills you with self-doubt. Or maybe you set health and fitness goals at the start of the year, mustered up the energy by Spring, and finally got into a comfortable rhythm in the last few months. (If so, you likely feel the difference, limber and love it – the energy, vitality and sense of wellbeing, not to mention a clean bill of health, perhaps the first time in years!)
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In any case, starting with Thanksgiving Day, you find yourself wanting to get off of the yearly “here we go again” roller coaster ride.
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There’s good reason to believe you can get off this roller coaster, knowing what we do about our amazing brains! The realization of any goal, however, necessitates that we are fully present in mind and body, and one life-harming thing that holiday gatherings have in common is a plethora of food and drink doused with sugar  – a seemingly harmless substance, now proven a toxic mind-altering drug, as addictive as cocaine and heroine.
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How serious is the problem?
  • Like it or not, “humans are genetically programmed to like sugar,” states Dr. Hyman. The availability of processed sugar makes it possible to eat sugar in quantities unimaginable in any previous period in history.
  • “If you eat sugar, there’s a good chance you’re addicted to it,” notes Dr. Joseph Mercola, M.D. Quite literally, your brain on sugar is your brain in its “most unhappy of pleasures“! Now that’s a problem.
  • Persons under the influence of sugar are predisposed to poor decision-making, and arguably, more vulnerable to other addictions as well. Findings show, a link between sugar cravings and alcoholism, for example.
  • Professor and director of pediatrics at the University of California Dr. Robert Lustig writes in The Atlantic: “… the war on drugs has taken a back seat … because a different war has cluttered the headlines — the war on obesity. And a substance even more insidious, I would argue, has supplanted cocaine and heroin. The object of our current affliction is sugar.”
Is it fair to expect you can make choices in the highest interest of your emotional and physical health, or relationships, if you are ingesting regular doses of a substance that alters your physio-emotional state of consciousness? Likely not. Would you expect yourself to drive safely under the influence of alcohol?
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The solution?  Take steps as soon as possible to kick the addiction or, at minimum, put together a conscious plan to only take sugar in quantities and conditions that ensure minimal negative impact.
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In this post, we’ll look at 3 steps to consider in protecting your healthy as well as the emotional energy you bring to holiday gatherings; and in the next two posts, more tips on what to do the same day, the following day and between gatherings.
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Here are the three steps:
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1. Get to know your brain and the neuroscience of sugar addiction.
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In his work, Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D. notes that sugar addiction is best understood as a biological condition. The ‘just say no’ approach has been proven not to work. A sugar or food addiction must be treated like an addiction because the behaviors arise specifically out of neurochemical reward centers in the brain that easily overwhelm willpower and choice. In other words, it’s unreasonable (and unfair) to expect to be charge of your choices under conditions when addictive substances are physiologically in control of brain and body processes.
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Dr. Lustig also writes:
“The brain’s pleasure center, called the nucleus accumbens, is essential for our survival as a species… Turn off pleasure, and you turn off the will to live… But long-term stimulation of the pleasure center drives the process of addiction… When you consume any substance of abuse, including sugar, the nucleus accumbens receives a dopamine signal, from which you experience pleasure. And so you consume more. The problem is that with prolonged exposure, the signal attenuates, gets weaker. So you have to consume more to get the same effect — tolerance. And if you pull back on the substance, you go into withdrawal. Tolerance and withdrawal constitute addiction.”
Whereas sugar can overwhelm the brain’s pleasure receptors and our willpower, more for some than others, however, we all can overcome sugar addiction.
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Understanding how sugar destroys health by turning into a toxic fat and that it is an addictive substance helps you get a better grip of the problem. It will motivate you and make it easier to say no and envision your life a whole lot better without it.
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2. Learn more about the connection between sugar and increases in anxiety, depression, and stress.
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Emotional problems of anxiety disorders, depression seem to increase around the holidays. , physical problems obesity, weight loss, sluggishness, fatigue , and diseases of the body such as cancer, heart and diabetes, among others are more common than ever, and so is food and sugar addiction (though rarely diagnosed).
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According to addiction expert Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D., many people suffering from depression are addicted to sugar and their blood-sugar levels are out of balance. Eating sweets provides a temporary emotional boost that leads to a craving more sweets. She describes how to keep these brain chemicals in the right balance through the dietary plan in her book, Potatoes Not Prozac: A Natural Seven-Step Dietary Plan to Stabilize the Level of Sugar in Your Blood, Control Your Cravings … And Recognize How Foods Affect the Way You Feel
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3. Take steps to stabilize the level of sugar in your blood.
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There are several excellent books and programs available. In a groundbreaking and timely book, The Blood Sugar Solution: The UltraHealthy Program for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease and Feeling Great, Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D. has developed a six-week healthy living program and reveals that the secret to getting fit and trim as well as healing and prevention of diseases such as diabetes, hear, and cancer, among others, is balancing your insulin levels. He describes the seven keys to wellness-nutrition: hormones, inflammation, digestion, detoxification, energy metabolism.
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In sum, you stand a good chance of removing a lot of stress from your holiday schedule, and infusing your days with more joy and meaning instead, if you take steps in advance to:
  • Get to know your brain and the neuroscience of addiction.
  • Understand how sugar harms physical, emotional and mental health and wellbeing.
  • Get seriously engaged in a program that helps you stabilize your blood sugar (this will stop the cravings and make your job manageable).

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your focus at holiday gathering were more on creating ‘food for the soul,’ such as heart-warming moments of sharing gratitude, being present, meaningfully connecting, and less on the food and drinks, thereby, kicking off a holiday season replete with more conscious moments of creating joy and empathic relationships with those who really mean the world to you (but perhaps like you, don’t ‘know’ it inside!)?

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Underline the italicized words present and conscious in the previous sentence. More on this in the next post.
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From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (November 23, 2012)

From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (November 23, 2012)

Athena Staik, Ph.D. (November 23, 2012)

Athena Staik, Ph.D. (November 23, 2012)

Dorlee M (November 25, 2012)

Elizabeth McKinley (November 30, 2012)






    Last reviewed: 3 Jan 2013

APA Reference
Staik, A. (2012). Holidays: How to Protect Health, Joy & Meaning From Sugar-Blues (Kick Sugar-Addiction), 1 of 2. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 20, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/relationships/2012/11/key-to-more-holiday-joy-meaning-kick-sugar-addiction-avoid-sugar-blues-1-of-3/

 

 

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