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Posts Tagged ‘sugar as a drug’

The hangover week after Halloween feels like an excellent time to reflect on how sugar is like crack. There are still bowls of fun-size crack bars floating around the office, coworkers listlessly, compulsively taking from them. Just one more Smartie, one more Mr. Good Bar. No one feels good about it anymore.

The heady rush of celebration – of eating all the candy with wild abandon – is gone. I even fell prey to the siren song of candy this year. After two years of staunchly avoiding it all, this time I caved. I was carrying around a tray full of mini candy bars (as part of a group “Party Down” costume), and at some point I just reached out, grabbed a mini Snickers, opened it, and ate it. I knew it was a bad idea, but it was also so delicious I didn’t care enough to stop. And oh the happy feeling it gave me – warm and exciting, sending energy coursing through my body.

It really is like a drug.

Which is why I so appreciate this recent study from my own alma mater: Student-faculty research shows Oreos are just as addictive as drugs in lab rats. And while the study is focusing on cookies instead of candy, it’s all the same thing: sugar, sugar, sugar. Here’s just a snippet from the article:

“…his students found rats formed an equally strong association between the pleasurable effects of eating Oreos and a specific environment as they did between cocaine or morphine and a specific environment. They also found that eating cookies activated more neurons in the brain’s ‘pleasure center’ than exposure to drugs of abuse.”

Not only is sugar like cocaine, it is more like cocaine than cocaine. Which helps explain why it’s so hard to just walk away from the candy bowl.

Soon after eating that “fun”-size Snickers on Halloween, I reached for, opened, and bit into another one. I had broken the seal. No candy for two years and now it was all around me, ripe for the binging. I took a bite and then, in a moment of clarity, threw the rest in the trash can. No good could come from a candy binge. No good did come from it. Later in the day, I ate a mini Three Musketeers bar, but then that was really it. Then I really stopped. For about an hour, I felt amazing: full of energy, happy, running around the office, talking excitedly with all my happy buzzing coworkers. And then the crash hit.

Then I felt tired and gross. By the next day, I was kind of sick, like I was coming down with a cold. But I also felt like if I could just have another piece of chocolate, or maybe a Starburst, it would all be a little bit better. I knew better though. As hard as it was, I resisted. It was miserable at first, but then it was fine. And a week later, I am back on the wagon and off that white horse.

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Sugar. It seems like a good idea at the time. But once it’s in there – and by there, I mean my body – man, is it regrettable.

And to be truthful, sugar no longer seems like a good idea to me when I eat it. More accurately, I know it’s a bad idea, but the desire to indulge in something fun and irresponsible coupled with an almost irresistible need for it compels me. Kind of like a drug. Because that’s basically what it is.

Usually, my gateway is, “I’ll have just one bite.” Often, I am successful at this strategy, but not always. For example, on Sunday I was a dear friend’s birthday party, where two delicious cakes were presented. The goal was to photograph but not eat them. However, I decided to have just one bite. That bite involved marzipan, and oh, how I love marzipan. Anything almond flavored really. It took no time for the situation to devolve into me having enough bites of marzipan icing to constitute an entire piece of cake. A small one, yes, but still a piece of cake.

It tasted soooo good going in! And I just wanted to keep eating and eating and eating it. But then it didn’t feel so good. My body, now better attuned to the food it’s eating, caught up with me pretty quickly and, within 10 minutes, was speaking to its discomfort. The sugar made me feel twitchy over-stimulated, like I’d had to much coffee, while also making me vaguely nauseated. My mouth got cotton-y. I wanted to keep eating that marzipan icing, but I knew my body was telling me to stop. So I did.

There was a time, many years, in fact, when my body would have been so numb from constant sugar exposure, that it would not have sent me these signals, and I would not have stopped. Not until I had made myself ill or social convention made me too self-conscious. Now, my body immediately lets me know what I have done. And I live with the consequences of it. I feel sluggish, tired, and irritable, and I have to spend the next couple of days combating the craving to fend off these feelings with another hit of sugar. My weight goes up without fail.

Beyond my tongue and the pleasure receptors in my brain, my body does not like sugar. It really is a drug and one I am drawn to. But the more I am present with what happens when I eat it and how that makes me feel, the better I am able to stay away.

 

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