“Stressed spelt backwards is desserts”. Undoubtedly, most of us resort to sugar-loaded comfort foods when we’re in distress.
Workload getting too much? A glass of wine to relax at night.
6 days of intense workouts at the gym? A piece of cake on the cheat day.
Enjoying a vacation? Binge-eating our way through a movie.
No matter what the question, sugar is mostly always the answer. But why do we crave it so much? Let’s dig deep.
What happens when we eat sugar?
When we consume sugar, our brain releases the feel-good hormones, dopamine and serotonin. This hormone surge makes us instantly happier and puts us in a better mood. Just like any other addiction, we crave this feeling and find ourselves going back to it time and again.
So how is this bad? Here’s how.
When we eat glucose (the chemical compound of sugar), along with the ‘happy hormones’ released by our brain, our pancreas releases insulin to absorb the excess glucose that just entered the body. To stabilize the sugar levels in the body, this glucose is absorbed in the blood.
Okay, then what?
When the excess glucose is absorbed, the sugar rush starts to fade away. This phenomenon uses a lot of our body’s energy, leaving us drained of energy. This leads to lethargy, increased appetite and sluggishness. We crave sugar again, to make us feel energized. And the cycle continues.
The Sugar - Anxiety Connection
The energy boost, followed by the blood glucose level drop can induce stress on our brain. As a result, Adrenaline and Cortisol, the stress hormones are continuously pumped, wreaking havoc on our mental functioning. This hormonal surge contributes to more stress and anxiety. Know more about anxiety here.
The Sugar - Weight Connection
Have you ever noticed how eating a whole apple makes you feel instantly full, but drinking a can of soft drink is easy? This is because the apple contains fibres, that make us feel full. Refined sugar, on the other hand, packs a ton of calories into a small amount, and has no fibre or protein. As a result, we end up eating way more than we need to feel full.
This affects the scale on our weighing machine. But as this sugar gets absorbed, we start to feel hungry again. More sugar - energy spike - blood glucose level drops - lethargy … It’s a vicious cycle.
What to do instead?
Reducing refined sugar from our diet is a great way to manage stress, anxiety, blood glucose levels and weight. While that is the goal, it’s best to do it gradually and in parts, to avoid intense cravings.
For example, instead of a soda, grab a glass of fresh fruit juice.
Swap your mid-day milk chai with a cup of Ausum herbal tea. Refreshing & soothing, they provide the same feeling of calm, but without the sugar and calories.
5 Common Foods That Can Trigger Anxiety Symptoms : Intrepid Mental Wellness, PLLC: Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners. (n.d.). Intrepid Mental Health. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from https://www.intrepidmentalhealth.com/blog/5-common-foods-that-can-trigger-anxiety-symptoms
Peterson, T. J. (2022, January 6). Sugar and Anxiety: How Sugar Can Make Your Anxiety Symptoms Worse. Healthy Place. https://www.healthyplace.com/anxiety/food-and-anxiety/sugar-and-anxiety-how-sugar-can-make-your-anxiety-symptoms-worse
Winderl, A. M. (2015, December 16). This Is Exactly What Happens To Your Body When You Eat A Ton Of Sugar. Self.com. https://www.self.com/story/this-is-exactly-what-happens-to-your-body-when-you-eat-a-ton-of-sugar
Your Anxiety Loves Sugar. Eat These 3 Things Instead. (2020, June 23). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/how-sugar-harms-mental-health