Mayor Michael Bloomberg is making enemies and friends fast. His latest attempt at reducing unhealthy foods from New York City public food venues is bold: eliminating the large sodas from hospitals, delis and movie theaters. This latest move is just another step towards forcing people to look at their sugar consumption. Some people see it as just another way for government to control the public. I don’t know if his goals will be achieved but I find the whole thing fascinating…especially how upset people are getting over this proposition. I have read interviews where the general public responds that these decisions are taking away their American freedom. I believe these responses have very little to do with freedom, as those sugary sodas are still available at grocery stores so people are free to drink them in plentiful levels. I think it has more to do with the addictive element of sugar.
Part of the government’s job is to notify the public of health risks in an attempt to prevent the public from creating a health crisis. I believe our government is obligated to study the consequences of available resources and disseminate information to warn us. The government has known about the harmful effects of hydrogenated corn syrup (the ingredient in sodas, syrups, processed foods) for several years, yet they have never banned it, regulated it or made efforts to protect us. The government has known that big corn and sugar businesses in this country are causing increasing obesity, disease and death. Michael Bloomberg is attempting to regulate the citizens of New York City and their ability to easily get their hands on these disease causing toxins.
Some people argue that their right to consume these products should not be limited, restricted or monitored. Unfortunately we have proven as a public by the obesity rates and rates of disease, we cannot successfully monitor and moderate these substances on our own. That is not to say we are failures or that we don’t have willpower or motivation. There are physiological reasons for this difficulty, just like other addictive components. When we consume partially hydrogenated corn syrup, it changes our brain chemistry. It changes our brain chemistry in many ways that make it difficult for us to regulate and moderate (i.e. choosing a smaller sized option rather than the biggest available).
Basically this component in our food is like any other addictive component like nicotine, caffeine, benzodiazepines (Xanax, Ativan, Valium), alcohol: it effects our brain chemistry. And like any other addictive substance, the addictive components are harder for some individuals to moderate than others. Simply put, whatever our individual brain is short on, we will crave. Whichever drug answers our deficiency we will have trouble avoiding. For example, benzos work by enhancing the effect of GABA neurotransmitter in the brain which has the effects of anti-anxiety, anti-panic, anti-pain, relaxant, and sleep aid. Nicotine is a stimulant that increases the effects of dopamine and serotonin our pleasure and reward neurotransmitters. There is some evidence that sugars also influence levels of dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters in the brain.
Because of their powerful effects, all of these substances are regulated in some way by the federal government for the safety of the public. In my opinion, the man-made substance of partially hydrogenated corn syrup and trans-fats are no different. They were manufactured by people, for the purposes of money making. The people that created those products have made great deals of money from voracious consumption by the public, due to their addictive nature. I believe in the pit of my stomach, the creators are somewhere enjoying that money and NOT consuming products with those addictive components, because they know the harmful effects.
I met with a client the other day who was struggling with the loss of a beloved friend. She was frightened because for so many years she was able to regulate her sugar consumption. She ate well, felt good and successfully stayed away from overeating processed foods and sugar. Then her best friend of 24 years died, she was in shock and over the next months became depressed. In order to feel better, she turned to food, (specifically those foods that immediately boost mood like sugars). She told me that she had no ability to moderate. She had gained significant amounts of weight. She reported feeling a roller coaster ride of emotions (the high/ withdrawal effects from sugar, the shame over losing control, and the grief from her friend’s death). She said she felt a strong addiction to sugar and it was the only thing she looked forward to or that brought her comfort.
I understand those statements and can relate. For the 10 years following my father’s death, I used food, specifically sugar to comfort myself. My weight fluctuated; my self-esteem and body image changed, but sugar remained a consistent coping strategy. Then when I was in my mid 20’s I realized I was using sugar to regulate my mood and I started to try to better understand the relationship between my mood and cravings. I started to structure and restrict, to moderate and shape my relationship with sugar. I started to try to fill my life with other activities that brought me joy (and released dopamine and serotonin). I started to deal with the feelings about my dad.
And that exact process, is what my client and I did together. We talked about her friend and her feelings of loss. We started putting hobbies and activities into her life that brought her comfort. And lastly and most importantly, we gave structure to her relationship with sugar by creating guidelines and rules that she came up with regarding her consumption. One of her rules was that after 7 pm every night, she would not allow herself to eat sugar (that was when she missed her friend the most, as they would usually talk on the phone at night). In her mind she made sugar disappear from her world after 7 pm. It just wasn’t available. She just couldn’t have it. She just had to wait until the next day if she wanted to eat it. That simple rule reduced her sugar intake drastically and helped her gain control. It also helped her focus on missing her friend at night rather than experiencing a sugar high or the shame/guilt for having overeaten.
So, while we wait for our government to recognize that they are going to need to assist our population with sugar regulation (because of the many addictive elements) ReallyBeU will be here to help. We understand that life is hard sometimes, and during those times it is difficult to make good choices about moderation with sugary foods and drinks. We will be there, we will help you develop strategies to regulate and moderate; to gain control and to become all you deserve to be!