Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Psychology of Sugar-Part One

Someone left a comment asking if I still crave sugar. No, but yes. No, because I have no physical cravings for it. My body doesn't "need" or expect it anymore. In fact, at parties, I have watched people load up on sugary treats and then later, watched them walking around looking very tired and lethargic. Meanwhile, I feel energetic and distant from those sugar highs and lows. Watching someone else have a sugar crash definitely reinforces my plight! The "yes" part of my answer deals with the psychology of sugar and goodies in general. Because of what I have been experiencing over the last couple of months, I believe that sugary treats are more of a psychological addiction than a physical addiction. Here's why I think that, and how I am going forward to overcome this savvy, ingrained, psychological beast:
I think it is psychological because ever since I quit having cravings, I still "yearn" for that shared moment of eating donut holes with someone. After dinner at a restaurant, I "want" to enjoy hot chocolate (loaded, and I mean loaded, with whip cream) with my friends. Not having one feels like I am not participating in this ritual. I feel left out in a way. I always try to get something else instead so I am not just staring at everybody else's drinks, but tea does not bring the satisfaction and merriment that hot chocolate does! Sharing a warm, homemade dessert together as a family is a very cozy, safe feeling. Opting out feels like it brings some sort of negativity to the scene. It seems to automatically make someone aware that what they are about to partake in, is unhealthy. If everyone participates, no one has to feel guilty or think twice about it. In the past (pre-2008) when I have tried to say no to desserts, I have actually experienced people getting upset. There is tremendous pressure to conform and eat dessert. What I am saying is that there is much comfort and psychological ease in sharing desserts and goodies with people. It is a predictably warm, safe, fun feeling. The moment you opt not to eat dessert or pass down a piece of birthday cake, you have suddenly made the group aware of something. Some people may become aware that they probably shouldn't eat dessert either. After all, they are extremely full, or they are trying to lose weight, or they are just giving in to peer pressure (especially when they don't even like what's being served!). I think that this tends to make the host or hostess feel a bit uncomfortable, as they are surely thinking similar thoughts. Even worse though, because they are the ones providing this sugary, fattening dessert.

Another similar, psychological role goodies have played is being the reward. When you were little, how many times did you hear, "If you are good, you can have some _____ for dessert,"?
Our culture has learned to celebrate using sugary goodies as the highest mark for good behavior. Every birthday, holiday, graduation, winning event, and wedding celebrates with desserts and candy. I can't think of any event that's excluded. When did this begin? Thousands of years ago, you read that people celebrated events with their best wine. Before sugar was available, how did people celebrate, and why did people celebrate with food? I think sugar is a learned, psychological addiction. I am excited to find out when it became important to celebrate with, and what people did long ago before white refined sugar was available!
I would like to relate a personal experience that I find quite indicative of the extent of the psychology of sugar. When I arrive at certain places, I am asked if I would like this or that (almost always a sugary treat of some kind). When I say, "No, thank you," my answer is not good enough. The host or hostess will push his/her dessert on me, trying to convince me to change my mind. Every "no, thanks" I utter is taken like a personal insult to that person. What I have got to thinking, is how strange it is that people try and push their sugary goodies on you, and yet, no one will try and push a tray of fruits or vegetables on you. It is not the food itself that they are pushing, but the meaning of the food. I believe this to be true because otherwise wouldn't people offer and try to push healthy food on you, especially if they liked you and had your best interest in mind? Why is it that someone will push a sugary, fattening, artery-clogging, cavity-causing, blood-sugar raising dessert on you? It is not because they want to fatten you up or clog your arteries or give you cavities or raise your blood sugar. It is because the meaning of their dessert is their way of saying they like/love you. Rejecting it is rejecting (not acknowledging) their time spent preparing it and the thoughts and love behind the motivation to make it.
There. Consider this Part One of The Psychology of Sugar. I would LOVE to hear your comments and similar (or not so similar) experiences.

1 comment:

Jessie said...

love your blog and I am on the same page. I have been a year without sugar before and felt so much better. I am a sugar addict for sure, and as long as I am off it completely I find my will power is very strong but if I have a little then I physically crave more. Your thoughts about the Psychological aspect of the craving are really interesting. I have experienced the discomfort of turning down desert at family gatherings and then felt like there was discomfort in the air and that I had offended the host - but shouldn't they be happy for me to avoid something bad for me? The physical cravings can be avoided but the sugary communal rituals that I have with friends are the hardest to not participate in - that really strong feeling of missing out on something wonderful. Now I work at a cupcake store - I think one cupcake contains more than a full cup of sugar - no exaggeration. Is this a bad job for me or just good place to practice? Also it bothers me that the kilos of sugar they use are not fair-trade. Maybe I should quit my job. I hate sugar for how it makes me feel - and especially how it seems to shut down my brain and prevent me from using my biggest gift which is my creativity...