How Bread and Sugar Make you Happy

Have you ever wondered why ice cream, bread, pizza, and candy bars are what you turn to when you are sad?  When you have a tough day do you go home for a small binge on cupcakes and ice cream to feel better? You may feel better briefly, but then you either need more goodies to stay feeling ok, or you descend into guilt over eating junk and the consequences that brings. 

One woman in her 50s whom I had worked with in my practice had suffered from issues with food her entire life, including many private binge sessions.  She had a routine when she grocery shopped. As she entered the store, she would choose a donut or pastry to eat while she was shopping.  It’s obvious why they put the pastry case right near the supermarket entrance, right?  We did my normal assessment session, which includes trial-ing supplements like 5HTP and Tryptophan. She reported back to me that she went to the grocery store after our session and that she oddly noticed the pastry case didn’t look inviting.  To her surprise, she didn’t want that usual donut.

The Origin of Happy Hour

A large part of the reason we head to the junk food is related to serotonin. Serotonin is a wonderful neurotransmitter that makes us feel many soothing feelings.  It’s responsible for positive outlook, the ability to stay calm and not worry over every little thing, sleep easily and well, and not feel irritable.  

When someone is low in serotonin, they will crave any substance that will help raise it.  This includes quick carbs (sweets, starchy foods - mashed potatoes anyone? - ice cream, etc.) and substances like alcohol, the drug ecstasy, and marijuana.  Most often these cravings begin in the mid to late afternoon, (when they are driven by low serotonin). This is the time of day when serotonin naturally drops in our body as it begins to convert to melatonin each day.  This phenomenon is likely the origination behind Happy Hour.

Cocaine and Sweets

Eating something gooey sweet and yummy can raise your serotonin levels; however, it is a brief burst to the brain that does not last very long.  Refined sugar is proven to be more addictive than cocaine.  It literally triggers dopamine and opioid signals in the brain, which then create a withdrawal, craving, and tolerance cycle. 

Help Is On The Way

What else can you do? There are natural ways to increase your serotonin levels to curb the cravings.

The simplest path, and one that is wildly helpful for the withdrawal period, is using a supplemental amino acid that literally converts to serotonin in your body.  The amino acids 5-HTP and L-Tryptophan do this.  They are easily found at your local health food store, Whole Foods, or vitamin store.  Try them at strategic times, an hour or so prior to your usual craving time. 

If you prefer to suffer through the withdrawals, and want a non-supplement approach, consider this: the body makes serotonin from protein.  It also needs the co-factors zinc and vitamin B6 for this process.  For someone who eats little protein, increasing dietary protein each day and providing the co-factors could be enough for a change. 

Two-Thirds of Americans Are Overweight

Two-thirds of Americans are now overweight. Yes, TWO-THIRDS!. If you want to read how the food industry consciously uses food additives to assure this addiction, read Pulitzer Prize winner and best selling author Michael Moss’ book, Salt Sugar Fat or his article in the NYTimes entitled “The Extraordinary Science of Junk food,  The drug dealers disguised as food companies are not only making America fat, and diabetic, but are hugely responsible for the dramatic increase in depression and anxiety.

Take a step to take charge of your own mental health, and your family’s, in a proactive way. Listen to your body’s cues.  Cravings are a sign that biochemistry is in need or balancing.