If you come to understand the next sentence, it will change your life. Food is not fuel, food is information. Food is not fuel, food is information. No, this is not a typo. I wrote that sentence twice because it is essential for you to understand when it comes to forming a healthy relationship to food. Yes, it is a relationship!
For earlier generations, food was fuel. You ate whatever you could hunt or gather. Obesity was not an issue unless you had some sort of glandular endocrine disease. My how times have changed. Processed foods have been the driver of the obesity epidemic. These foods have become refined to make them last longer and taste better.
For many years, researchers believed that calories were calories. Carbohydrates (sugars) and proteins were 4 calories/gram; fats were 9 calories per gram. Therefore, the more fat, the greater the caloric burden and potential weight gain. To complicate things more, fat intake became linked to heart disease. Enter the age of "fat-free" foods.
However, fat tastes good. So simply removing the fat would significantly dull the taste. What was the food industry to do? Add sugar! Unfortunately, the past two decades have been a terrible science experiment. Although our supposed calories were decreasing by removing fat, our society was getting sicker and sicker. Chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease continued to rise. The culprit...sugar.
Let's get back to the fuel/information idea. What happens when you consume refined sugar? Your blood sugar rises quickly, causing your insulin levels to rise. Insulin removes the sugars from the blood for utilization by your cells. This is a normal/healthy response. But when blood sugar levels remain continuously elevated due to dietary intake, a deadly cascade begins. As insulin levels increase, your cells are told to store fat. As the body systems continue to become stressed, inflammation is triggered as a protective mechanism. This chronic inflammation causes other chemical messengers to be released, leading to damaged blood vessels (heart disease) and abnormal cell development (cancer).
Eventually your pancreas, which secretes the insulin, begins to burn out due to over stimulation. To make matters worse, the cells of the body become resistant to the insulin. This causes blood sugar to rise even more. This excess blood sugar binds with proteins, resulting in what are called advanced glycated end products (AGEs). These AGEs are like gunky oil in you car, damaging the organs.
Sugar is inflammatory, it is as simple as that. Now for some more bad news. Sugar has been replaced by a cheaper sweetener called high fructose corn syrup. This is like putting sugar on steroids. Major organ damage ahead. So what about artificial sweeteners? Research now shows how they fool the brain into thinking it is receiving something it does not get. This triggers the hunger signal and you end up actually eating more.
So what is a person to do? First, everything in moderation. According to the World Health Organization, it is recommended to keep free sugar consumption to less than 5% of caloric intake or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons). Take a look at some of the common foods where hidden sugar resides (Prevention Magazine). Next, use healthier alternatives such as stevia (make sure it has no added ingredients!). Finally, think of sugar as a drug, because it is. It creates certain feelings and emotions. That is why you crave it like you do.
You need to become familiar with the terms glycemic index and glycemic load and the measures of some common foods (Harvard Health Publications). The glycemic index is a measure of blood sugar response to particular foods while glycemic load relates to the insulin response. Choose low glycemic load foods. Here is why they are different. An eight ounce glass of water and a one gallon jug of water containing one teaspoon of sugar have the same glycemic index. However, one ounce of water from the glass will have significantly more sugar than one ounce of water from the jug, leading to a greater spike in insulin.
Decide to make a change. It will be challenging, but you can do it. What you will notice is that as each day passes, the cravings lessen. Beware that when emotional stresses hit, you will be tempted to get your "fix." You must be prepared. Have some healthy snacks like nuts, some fruit or crunchy veggies. It might not be the same, but realize that you will be healthier for it. Also, engage a friend, family member, or co-worker for your journey. There is power in accountability and emotional support. They will be healthier for it as well.
We must all suffer from one of two pains...the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. Choose wisely.