Dr. Lori Horan Soule, ND, LAc

Soule Health Care

3526 SW Corbett

Portland OR, 97239


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Newsletter Archive

When Sugar Rules Your Life

September 29, 2011

Do you have a history of being "on" and "off" sugar? Does your heart sing when a box of chocolate opens? Do you ever clean up your diet and lose weight for a little (or a long) while, and eventually, cravings for sugar overcome all good intentions and you succumb to out-of-control eating that is difficult to stop? This is a very common condition that many people struggle with endlessly. To end this struggle we need both a balanced blood sugar and an awareness of our needs for nourishment that are not food-based.

Why, in spite of everything we know about nutrition or weight loss, do we feel powerless to stop eating sugar? It is NOT because we have no willpower or self-discipline. There are good biochemical reasons for our cravings. Neurotransmitters and optimal blood sugar levels provide us with energy, a clear mind and problem solving skills. Blood sugar levels are dependent upon the proper balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates in the diet. Eating the wrong kinds of foods (such as coffee and sweets for breakfast) can promote volatile blood sugar responses, such as fatigue, shakiness, an overwhelmed feeling, irritability, impulsiveness and sugar cravings.

On the other hand, cutting out simple carbohydrates completely can have disastrous rebound effects because it decreases our blood sugar as well as our neurotransmitter serotonin, which influences our sense of relaxation and impulse control. Eventually, a lack of serotonin demands we eat more simple carbohydrates, which is why it is difficult to stop eating sugar once you start.

Balancing blood sugar is simple with the right kinds of food. However, food choices can also be medication for a non-physical hunger. Sugar carries a different "charge" than all other foods. (People don't usually binge on broccoli.) Sugar can provide comfort, a sense of well being, an increase in self esteem, ease emotional distress, reduce pain, and control anxiety. Sugar acts like an opiate in the brain, which blocks both emotional and physical pain.

Compulsive eating is a complex issue. Diets frequently fail because food often isn't the real problem. Sugar can also be a distraction from the reasons why people use food when they are not actually physically hungry. When we eat, we aim to nourish ourselves. When we aren't hungry and we eat, we probably do have a hunger that is crying out for nourishment, but it probably is not a physical hunger. It is possible to find out why we use food when we aren't hungry, and it is equally possible to learn how to nourish ourselves in ways besides food.

Compulsive sugar eating can be a sign that there is not enough of something else that we need in our lives. It might be indicating that another kind of nourishment, such as love, pleasure or creativity is missing. It could be a very powerful vehicle to lead us to self-knowledge of feelings we are having and are unaware of. If we were aware of these feelings, we might make better choices that affect our lives in very profound ways.

If you are a compulsive sugar eater and would like to stop the roller coaster of binging and dieting, then it will take a different approach than "all or nothing." If you want to explore the appropriate diet to balance your blood sugar and body chemistry, or to explore deeper motivations for your sugar appetite, contact our clinic for an appointment with Dr. Horan.

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