G is for Glucose

I have a sweet tooth….a mouth full of them in fact! I eat pretty healthy….protein, complex carbs, lots of vegetables…but it’s the dessert. I can’t say no. Especially when it is cake. I’m not kidding when I call myself a cake addict in my tagline. Cake is my reward for completing a goal and it is my comfort when I am not feeling well (physically or mentally). Everyone teases me. My Dad even threatens to stick a bumper sticker on my car, “I brake for cake!”.

I love cake

There have been a lot of articles recently about the food-mood connection, how blood sugar and brain chemistry are related. To my dismay, sugar is bad for you. I’m not talking about all sugar. Your body does, after all, need some sugar (glucose, specifically) to function properly. Think back to high school biology, cell respiration…remember that? It all starts with glucose. Like any good thing however, too much is bad. Dessert has a lot of sugar and your body breaks it down into glucose quickly. Sugar rush!! It’s not just dessert though. Everyday foods like rice, bread, soda or fruit juice can put you over the top too.

People with low levels of serotonin (like those with depression) crave sugar. Too much sugar exacerbates mental health problems. Yes, another another endless cycle that those with mental illness have to fight. It’s not fair is it? At least now I know why I’ve always been a sugar addict.

Carbohydrate cravings have been linked to lower serotonin levels. Ingesting sugar releases insulin from the pancreas. Insulin alters the ratios of amino acids in the body causing there to be more tryptophan available and less of other amino acids. This means there is less competition for tryptophan to cross the blood-brain-barrier. In the brain, tryptophan can be converted into serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter that is often low in those with depression. This explains why I reach for cake as soon as I start feeling down. The relief is only temporary though. Eventually things return to normal and less tryptophan is available to be converted to serotonin. This, of course, starts the whole sugar craving all over again. Keep in mind, this is just a fragment of a hugely complex picture.

Sugar has the potential to be addicting too. The more you eat it, the more you crave it. Sugar floods the brain with another feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine. Studies have show that sugar activates the same areas of the brain as cocaine and we all know how addictive cocaine is known to be.

There are 3 potential mechanisms through which too much sugar can be a burden on mental health.

  • Insulin and leptin resistance. Insulin resistance can impair signaling between brain cells. You know that foggy feeling you get when you are feeling low. You can’t really concentrate and you’re having trouble remembering things….insulin resistance contributes to that. Leptin is released to tell the brain you are full, building up a resistance can lead to constant overeating which leads to weight gain. And that always makes us feel great about ourselves right?
  • Chronic inflammation. Sugar overload triggers a set of reactions that lead to a low level of chronic inflammation. This doesn’t cause problems right away, but in the long term, chronic inflammation contributes to things like heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Macular Degeneration. Inflammation in the brain is also thought to exacerbate depression.
  • Less Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). BDNF is necessary for healthy neurons. Sugar suppresses the production of BDNF. Studies comparing those with depression to those without have found that generally, people with depression have significantly lower levels of BDNF. Meaning, sugar just lowers it even more. Ugh!

So I guess sugar is my best friend and my worst enemy.

Sources:
Neurology
Diabetes Care
Food for the Brain

Self-esteem Challenge: Day 17

This blog challenge was developed by betterthandarkchocolate.tumblr.com. If you missed the introduction or want to see a summary of all the questions, go here.

Day 17:
Another thing you like about yourself.
What do you do to feel calmer when you’re stressed?

Another thing I like about myself?! Umm…..I don’t know, I think I’ve covered it all already. Let’s see….my ears? I am thankful I have healthy ears….*knocks on wood*. I’ve never had an ear infection or any ear pain. Sure, I’ve gotten water logged, but it was never that bad. I have my ears pierced (one hole each) and I’ve never had trouble with that. My ears are tiny too. I feel a bit like a fairy tale character when people exclaim “My, what small ears you have!”. I know a lot of people who are self-conscious about their ears for some reason or another, or people who constantly get ear infections, have to wear plugs to swim or have had to have surgery for something. I like my ears because they don’t give me something else to stress about. So thank you ears for behaving yourselves.

I eat cake and watch a movie to calm myself down. The movie depends on the level of stress I’m feeling. A low stress level requires a feel-good movie. One of those movies I’ve watched a million times. Sometimes I draw with my cake and feel-good movie. If it’s really high stress, I have to watch a movie I haven’t seen before. If I haven’t seen it, I’m more likely to get immersed in it and shut my brain off. Turning my brain off for a little while is the only way I can cope with stress. Most of the time, things are a little clearer when I turn my brain back on. I just have to hope the movie is good enough to distract me.

zentangle ropes

Self-esteem Challenge: Day 2

This blog challenge was developed by betterthandarkchocolate.tumblr.com. If you missed the introduction or want to see a summary of all the questions, go here.

Day 2:
A physical feature you like.
List 5 things that make you smile or happy.

Physical feature I like: My hair. Like I said in the last post, it’s a unique colour, healthy and for the most part, behaves itself.

5 things that make me smile or happy…I’m going to define “things” as non-living, so that rules out family, friends and pets.

  1. Planning a Vacation. It is always nice to have that anticipatory excitement to get you through the day. I don’t plan my vacations with the hour to hour details, but I do some research on where I’m going and what I want to do/see while I’m there. I enjoy learning about new places too. I spent a week or so planning my 30th birthday trip after I found out we wouldn’t be able to do a trip. Even though I’m not going, planning what I would have done was fun. I don’t remember having to fight my depression that week.

    I wanted to go snorkeling off the cliffs in Negril, Jamaica

    I wanted to go snorkeling off the cliffs in Negril, Jamaica

  2. Extra Time. I am much less stressed when I have time to do the things I need to do and some of the things I want to do. Knowing that I get an extra hour when we turn the clocks back every fall makes me smile.

    aerosmith lyric full circle

    sloppy experiment

  3. Success. Setting a goal and achieving it makes me happy. I will be happy if I get my Ph.D. It doesn’t have to be that big though. Little successes can help too, if I remember to focus on them. For example, getting my eyeliner straight if I decide to wear it or completing my running route in less time.
  4. An excuse to eat cake. I love, love, LOVE cake and I feel much less guilty for eating it when there’s a reason for it. Birthdays are the best reason, how can you say no to birthday cake? Then there are things like retirement parties, baptisms, and bake sales for a good cause. My dad even turned break-ups as an excuse to eat cake. The first time my now-hubby and I broke up, my Dad bought me a cake that said on it “Another one bites the dust”. Good Ol’ break-up cake, lol. 🙂
  5. Jeans that fit. If you’ve ever gone looking for a new pair of jeans, tried on dozens and then got that one pair that slides on like it was made for you, then you’ll know what I mean. I’ve got that big hips/butt, small waist problem that causes jeans to either get stuck mid thigh or have a horrendous gap in the back at the waist. Finding jeans that do fit right without having to wear a belt is the clouds parting and the angels singing kind of a moment.

Cake Binge

I like food too much. I rely on sweets, cake in particular, wayyy too much. Cake is what I want when I feel down or have had a stressful day. Cake is what I want to celebrate reaching the end of something or accomplishing something difficult. Is it weird that the answer to everything, good or bad is cake? I want it even when I’m bored. Especially now that I’m watching my calories, I think about food constantly and the urge to binge on sweets of all kinds is really strong. If I hold out and don’t binge, the urge gets stronger, but if I give in and have a piece of cake, I’m afraid I wont be able to stop myself from eating the whole thing. Sometimes I wish I were one of those people who get sick from having too much sugar or dessert that’s too rich. I’m not though. My stomach can handle endless amounts of it.

I love cake

I wish there were more dessert restaurants around here. I think that would help me with portion control. I could go out, pay to have one piece of cake and be done with it. No leftovers to worry about. All the dessert restaurants have slowly closed since I’ve move here though, even the grocery store has stopped making my favourite little treat. It seems like the only way to get my fix is to buy a whole cake these days.

I know eating is addictive. Sugar especially, activates the same dopamine reward pathway in the brain as many addictive drugs. Low levels of serotonin and dopamine, as is the case in depression, can lead to compulsive behaviour, like a binge. The medications I am on are meant to increase dopamine and serotonin. When I don’t take my meds, I end up eating even more. Also, studies have shown that people with stress or anxiety are more prone to reward-seeking behaviour. They end up losing perspective, prioritizing the reward over the regret they’ll feel later. This is definitely me!

Why can’t I stop? I know binge eating is bad for my health and my appearance. Just knowing that should be enough to deter me, but it’s not. What would my fat say if it could talk? How is binge eating helping me? If I were eating for good reasons, what would they be? I know, it’s stupid. There are no good reasons for eating like this. Life would be better without fat and binges. The parts of life that would improve if I dropped to 120lbs are not the parts that keep eating cake. But, if I keep doing something, then there must be a benefit to it, otherwise there would be no reason to do it, right?

I don’t think I’ll be able to stop until I find out what my reason for eating is. What am I trying to fix by eating? Maybe I am trying to get more joy out of life. Eating is something I have to make time for anyway, so I eat junk hoping to fit more joy into my schedule. My time is precious and I feel like I have so much to do that I need to use my time wisely, be productive. Doing something simply for the joy of it is not an option. That’s selfish and inefficient. So I turn eating, something I have to do to survive, into something that gives me joy. This links back to sugar activating the dopamine pathway in the brain which creates the feeling of joy. It also creates the addiction, which just perpetuates the cycle.

Does this make sense at all? It would mean in order to stop eating so much I would have to find a different source of joy. What do you do to to bring yourself joy or make yourself feel rewarded?

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