What do you get when you cross can of whoop-ass masquerading as 2016 with poor coping skills? An expansion of your waistline and your closet. At least in my case. Two of my resolutions for 2017 have to do with an overall goal of getting back into shape. And to do that, I’m starting with the kitchen.
To say that I have a sweet tooth is like saying falling face first into a hibachi would “smart”. No. My craving for sweets is more like a gravitational pull towards chocolate and ice cream and the like. I always say that it isn’t dessert if it doesn’t feel like your teeth are rotting out of your head.
You may already have noticed that processed sugar, it’s effects on the human brain and behavior and the role of the food industry in the increase in health problems has been a hot topic lately.
I’m about to engage the science-y and clinical parts of my brain, so please bear with me. Also bear in mind that this will be a very crude explanation. The brain makes chemicals that tell the body to do things all sorts of things like jump, feel happy, sleep. One of those chemicals is called dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for things like motivation, feeling alert and reward. That last one is pretty key. When the brain senses something it likes, it releases dopamine which increases pleasure (reward) AND makes us want to do that thing again (reinforcement). Now, let’s say you do something that raises dopamine levels in the brain way higher than normal or makes dopamine stick around way longer. An example of this would be using cocaine. You take the cocaine, the brain says “wahoo!” and all of a sudden you have tons of dopamine in the brain that sticks around for a longer than it usually does, which feels really good. Now, the brain remembers this and tries to get you to do it again — cravings. The problem is that if you keep stimulating your brain in this way, it thinks that lots of dopamine is always going to be around so it stops making its own. So now, without the cocaine, you have less dopamine in your brain than normal and the cravings to get those levels back up get stronger and stronger. Lower than normal dopamine feels pretty crappy. This is withdrawal. Happily, if you remove the trigger (in this example, the cocaine) for long enough, the brain eventually gives up and starts making its own dopamine again. It starts resetting back to normal. Just incredible to me!
There is research that likens processed sugar to drugs and addiction to drugs. It looks like sugar may be messing with the dopamine levels in the brain the same way, maybe even more so. In fact, there is a diet pill on the market that is a combination of a medication that has been used for years help people quit smoking and another that is used to help people with alcohol and opiate addiction. Sobering (no pun intended) that a medication made of things used to treat some of the biggest addictions people face is effective for curbing food cravings. So for me, addressing the sweet tooth was the first priority.
First thing I did was to commit to a meal plan that focused on eliminated all processed sugars. All of them. I chose the Whole 30 program, which I have done once before. There are various conceptually similar plans out there but this was the best fit for me. It is not easy because you have to prepare almost everything you are allowed to eat. Even condiments. Did you know that most prosciutto is processed with sugar? That was an unhappy discovery. The first week felt really food. My bloating was gone and I was more clear-headed. But the beginning of the second week has been rough. I have mild headaches. I feel a bit queasy at times. My brain feels fuzzy. And the cravings are strong! Thankfully, I am doing this with 2 colleagues with whom I share a Facebook page where we talk about our progress, recipes, increase in irrational anger or share a meme or two. Having these partners has been huge help and motivator.
The second tool I am using is called Diet Bet. This is basically a weight loss social media platform. The idea is to join a game and place a monetary bet that you will lose 4% of your current weight in 4 weeks. All of the money goes into a pot. If every single person meets the goal, you just win back the money you put in. However, if some people don’t reach that goal (but you do) then you get your money back and a bit more. Of course, the more people who don’t make it, the more money you get back but the feedback on the site is really positive and encouraging. So, I joined 3 games simultaneously. I figured having 95 bucks at stake would be more motivating to me than 30 or 35.
All told, 9 days in and I have already met the Diet Bet goal. Now, I work to keep it going, not rest on my laurels. My eyes are on the bigger picture, which is to reset my brain and taste buds, with much improved overall health being a happy side effect. Now, I am a foodie, so I will not remain sugar free. I’m looking for balance by the end of this year. But, just in case, I have character witnesses on standby and bail money in the bank in case I do something rash for a bon bon.
Any health goals for 2017? Any feed back? Leave them below, I’d love to read the below.
Diet Bet website here; there is also an app
Whole30 website here