Dealing with Holiday Sugar

Sugar is THE fuel for our body.

Our neurophysiology evolved to favor foods containing sugar.

Our physiology evolved to digest and store sugar efficiently.

So what is going on when we first see, smell, or even just start thinking about a  sugary treat?

Think about a doughnut. Your favorite kind. It’s soft and warm and fills your mouth with creamy sweetness. Are you salivating yet?

Because we have the ability to build memories, we can quickly attain the full doughnut experience in our mind’s eye. Our brain deploys dopamine to give this memory the “feeling” of pleasure in our body. This experience is a REWARD for us. It happens fast because our brain has learned to love rewards. Thinking like this will drive us to GO GET THE REWARD, the doughnut.

But did you know we can also use our thinking to DECREASE the amount of dopamine deployed when anticipating a reward? If we want to lose weight the time to practice doing this is in the face of an unexpected reward. When our primitive brain habits will ambush us to eat that doughnut magically appearing in the lounge or joining in with a co-worker ordering out for hoagies and chips.

How? By strengthening the power of our dopamine negative prediction error signals. If we interrupt doughnut thoughts with non-doughnut thoughts the brain will release less dopamine. Less dopamine means a weaker urge to go get the doughnut reward.

When the doughnut (or other food) thought pops into your head try immediately following that thought with one like:

  • Dropping that doughnut on a public bathroom floor
  • Imagining 10 stink bugs flying out of the box
  • Realizing your dog licked every single doughnut
  • Thinking about the non-handwashing teenager in the doughnut shop
  • Remembering how sleepy and de-energized you will feel in 30 minutes
  • Visualizing your gut groaning because it now has to deal with crap food
  • Watching the inflammation bloom like a red fire in your joints
  • Reminding yourself of your goal to lose a pound this week

Next thing to do is remove yourself physically from the stimulus. Nope, you can’t have the doughnut. Not if you want to lose weight. With practice this gets easier.

With enough practice, the antecedent cue driving your behavior will be one YOU choose! This holiday month I’m throwing stink bugs on all the things I do not need to eat:)

I feel reassured that our brain has a built in function allowing us a choice to not feel like an eating robot around triggering sweet and savory foods. In today’s world the function of a low dopamine output response to a cue is buried by our modern food lifestyle. But it is in there. Let’s pull it out of the back of our mind closet and set it on the table right in front of us. Putting it to work for our benefit again.




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