It’s never been uncommon for someone enduring issues with mood, anxiety, or stress to tell me they’ve been pounding chocolate, chips, breads, and ice cream; and have been bathing in sugary sodas. But for who knows what reason, I’ve been hearing it so much more lately. What’s up with that?
Sadly, most who share have no clue as to why it’s happening; so they’ve beaten themselves to a pulp for being such an undisciplined glutton. And, of course, that only adds to their already trashcan self-esteem. Though I’ve addressed the issue in previous articles, let’s give it another go. Hey – why not print the article for ongoing reference?
Carbohydrates are our primary source of energy. And they’re categorized as either simple or complex, both being digested into glucose – blood sugar. Simple carbs contain refined sugars, provide very few essential nutrients, and are digested quickly. Examples: sugar, honey, fruit juice, molasses. Complex carbs are loaded with goodies like fiber, vitamins, and minerals; and take much longer to digest. Examples: cereals, pasta, breads, legumes, vegetables.
So, carbs = sugar.
A carb-craving is a sudden and very overwhelming drive to consume carb-rich foods. And it’s most often generated by a rebound biochemical reaction to low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia). Oh, by the way, depressed mood, anxiety, and stress induce more than their share of carb cravings. For the record, it’s interesting that many of the mood and anxiety sufferers I work with report being hypoglycemic. Hmmm.
So let’ s discuss the cycling dynamic that makes this goofiness happen.
We’re depressed and feeling anxious. In response, we begin to hit the carbs fast and furiously. As a result, our blood sugar level, and likely our mood, increases appreciably. Well, the surge in blood sugar leads to an increase in the production of insulin. Insulin, produced in the pancreas and known as the “hunger hormone,” now becomes a major player in that it manages the metabolism of carbs, most notably glucose.
The insulin onslaught causes a quick drop in our blood sugar level; and on come the physical, mental, and emotional symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) – more intense carb cravings, irritability, fatigue, trembling, headache, weakness, feeling faint, and confusion. And, of course, in the face of these sensations we come up with some highly misguided, and very anxious, misinterpretations and overreactions. And it sure doesn’t help that epinephrine (adrenaline) gets in on the act because our body is sounding the very low blood sugar alarm.
So guess what we do in response? That’s right – we pound even more carbs to make ourselves feel better. And that happens because our blood sugar level increased.
Well, the bottom-line is, we’re now in the graspe of a very nasty cycle.
Ah – but there’s more. Contributing to all of this is an insufficient supply of serotonin, which not only negatively impacts our level of mood and anxiety, but inhibits our thought processing. And that leaves the door wide open to impulsivity, making it all the more difficult to turn away the carbs. Like we really needed that, right? Oh, and we can’t forget the connection between ingesting carbs and mood elevation. They don’t call them comfort foods for nothing.
And if all this wasn’t enough, sugar causes a release of what’s known as beta endorphin. Now, that’s a buzz the average Joe or Joan out there can very freely enjoy. However, sugarheads like us respond in a much more prolific manner. I mean, it can make us actually feel drunk. And, okay, being a chocoholic can be funny at times; but, sadly, chronic buzzes like this ultimately lead to a devastating and, perhaps, permanent drop in beta endorphin. And you can imagine what a smack upside the head that would be.
So the bottom-line here is the fact that one can become addicted to simple sugars and carbohydrates. And the wild thing is it’s all about the very same dynamics as a heroin or Vicodin addiction. I mean, don’t forget we can catch an immediate buzz by ingesting sugary stuff, and we can go through physical withdrawal, manifested by symptoms such as irritability and headache.
Alrighty then – hopefully that fills in some blanks and helps you understand why you do what you do (if you’re doing it).
What do you think chipur readers? Anything to add? We could sure use your input.