Debbie J., MS, RD contributed this article –
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and with it comes a flurry of sweet tasting confections that provide you with a good, old–fashioned sugar rush. As humans, we are hard-wired to like sweet foods from birth. We have a genetic taste preference for sweetness that is reinforced by an emotional response. People often describe feeling calm, content, relaxed, happy, or excited after eating candy. However, some people have such a dependence on sweets that they readily turn to a “sugar fix” to boost their mood.
Is the attraction to candy all in your head? Technically yes, it is. Consuming sweets and simple carbohydrates causes the release of serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical that boosts your mood. Eating sugary treats also causes a surge of dopamine, which is the pleasure hormone. This is what causes your tongue to tell your brain it wants dessert, even when you are full. Sometimes, the savory and salty flavors from dinner just aren’t enough: sometimes, you still long for the sweet taste of candy.
But don’t feel sorry if you are tempted to have candy. It’s actually healthy and normal to want to feel a perk in your mood or give in to your indulgences every now and then. The problem lies in our habitual response to those cravings, especially since candy’s effects on your brain is short-lived. Our pleasure/reward center is stimulated for less than five minutes after eating sugar! That’s a small payoff for the amount of empty calories gained!
If your relationship with candy is damaging to your waistline, it might be time to break up! Here are several ways to help you sever ties with candy:
- Connect with a close friend or significant other to naturally release oxytocin, a powerful hormone which curbs sugar cravings.
- Eat enough nourishing fresh food to feed your brain properly, including “nature’s candy” – fruit!
- Engage in positive self-talk or seek positive reinforcement from others to improve your mood.
- Enjoy other pleasures, like your favorite music or video game.
- Tackle an item on your to-do list to achieve a long-term reward.
- Soothe yourself with a relaxing cup of tea, a good book or cuddle with your furry pet on the couch.
- Exercise with a friend to boost endorphins and support serotonin production.
If none of those ideas help and you still want to indulge in candy, take heart knowing that there is a way to have candy sensibly and without remorse! First, make sure when you eat candy it is only part of your extras (e.g. the frosting on the cake) after you’ve eaten a balanced meal — ideally with fruits and nuts. Second, be sure to choose a candy that has a similar flavor and texture as the candy you are craving so that when you eat the candy, you are completely fulfilling your craving. Third, keep your consumption to an ounce or tablespoon. Finally, focus on savoring the flavor, relishing the taste and the feeling of the treat in your mouth. Sweet tooth satisfied; guilt averted!