I recently read about a woman who drop kicked a birthday cake in the grocery store because she was unhappy with the way it was decorated. She was already in trouble for a separate incident; she slapped the clerk at an ice cream establishment because they ran out of her favorite flavor. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both occasions involved sugary desserts.
Dr. Kathleen DesMaisons, author of “Potatoes Not Prozac” and “The Sugar Addict’s Total Recovery Program”, studied brain chemistry and discovered that some people are born with low levels of the mood regulating chemicals serotonin and dopamine. Low serotonin levels are tied to depression, aggression, poor attention, and poor impulse control. Low levels of dopamine are linked to addiction, low self-esteem, violence, and anger.
The foods we eat change the level of serotonin and dopamine in our brain. Sugar and refined carbohydrates (highly processed foods and things made with white flour) change the levels quickly because they are quickly digested.
Of course what goes up must come down. Dr. DesMaisons found that people with low levels of serotonin and dopamine experience extremes of this cycle. She says these extreme lows and highs manifest as diabetes, fatigue, moodiness, feeble concentration, and emotional outbursts.
Whether they realize it or not, these people use foods containing sugar, simple carbs, and caffeine to regulate their mood. Dr. DesMaisons was once an addictions counselor and recognized the same patterns that she had seen with other substance abusers. She coined the term “sugar sensitive” to describe it and developed a step by step approach to help people to heal from their addiction.
Dr. DesMaison doesn’t suggest going “cold turkey”. As with any addictive substance sugar withdrawal symptoms can be fierce. She focuses first on behaviors that help to normalize blood sugar levels. The first step in her approach is simply to get in the habit of having breakfast every morning. She also offers an online support network and weekly newsletter called Radiant Recovery for people who are working through the steps.
Anyone can become “hangry”; a term that describes crankiness resulting from low blood sugar. But if you experience mood swings, turn to sweets and junk food when you are upset, or if you can’t control your consumption of these foods it might be worth investigating further.
I can say from personal experience that you will be surprised by how good you feel with less sugar in your diet.