“I’m swearing off sweets for the next month.” “I feel guilty and had no self-control over the donuts in the break room.” “My New Year’s Resolution is to give up sugar.”
Last January, The Washington Post reported 45 million Americans go on a diet each year. While it’s unclear how successful those diets are, the media takes advantage of blaming fats and sugars as public health enemies. But I’m here to tell you: quitting sweets is not realistic, nor is it the best thing for your body.
Americans do eat more sugar than what I think most people should eat. I’m not here to encourage you to eat more sweets! I encourage you to be realistic, build a healthy relationship with the foods you enjoy, and learn how sweets affect your body.
Our Bodies are Biologically Designed to Enjoy Sweets
We’re born with an innate preference for sweet-tasting foods. In nature, carbohydrates are often sweet. Carbohydrates are an essential source of energy for our bodies. Therefore, our bodies are designed to like and want these sweet carbohydrates.
Researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia determined children who preferred sweet foods over salty ones tended to be tall for their age. The results from the study suggest the preference for sweet foods comes from kids craving more energy and sugar as they are growing.
No matter your age, when we eat sugar, the brain releases two neurotransmitters that boost your mood. Dopamine and serotonin. These two help regulate sleep, metabolism, and many other processes in your body.
Take into account the biology of taste and how our bodies are designed to crave certain flavors. This explains why diets that remove sugar completely don’t last long-term.
Denying Yourself Sweets Over and Over Can Lead to Binges
Exerting self-control over one thing makes it harder to exert self-control over another. A group of hungry participants were forbidden from eating freshly baked cookies and told to eat radishes instead. The participants who ate the radishes instead of the cookies gave up faster on a subsequent frustrating task than those that ate the cookies.
Many individuals find that when they stop limiting the number of times they can eat desserts, they find they are satisfied with less. Your body learns it can have more tomorrow. Restriction breeds binging. Trying to avoid sweets in all situations all the time can be more stressful and lead to other behaviors, like binging.
Instead, by allowing yourself to enjoy sweets, you’ll allow for a more flexible way of eating that is better for your mental and physical health.
Sweets Aren’t the Only Reason Why Your Body Is At Risk for Chronic Diseases
Blaming chronic disease and unhealthy behaviors on one food is dangerous. It causes confusion and short-term dieting. Yes, too much sugar can negatively impact health and contribute to chronic diseases, but it’s not the only factor in the equation. And correlation is not causation in human studies.
Studying the relationship between nutrition, weight, and chronic disease is difficult. And curing chronic disease isn’t as simple as cutting out one food group, like desserts. So instead of cutting out sweets to decrease your risk of chronic disease, be choosier with the sweets that you eat. Instead of eating a store-bought cookie left in the breakroom, enjoy a cookie your kid made for you. It’s about choosing your sweets, rather than restricting.
Sweets Can Help Your Well-Being
I know, this isn’t a typical header that you read. But stay with me. When we look at those who have a healthy relationship with sweets and food in general, we also see they have better emotional health. A large part of emotional health is social connectedness. And a large part of social connectedness is food. We come together to share food, to share what we have baked, and to feel connected through food.
Yes, emotional eating is not always healthy. And there are times when we need to pause and address underlying emotions before diving into a piece of cake. And then there are times when we have a lack of appetite that comes with stress or sadness. There is an intimate and ancient relationship between your overall well-being and your gut.
You can see how your well-being can be affected by sweets by taking notice of what you eat, when you eat, and how you feel. Consider keeping a journal to help keep track of how your body responds to sweets.
Cutting out sweets completely isn’t doing your body any good. Depriving yourself can be miserable and often lead to overeating later on. The term “moderation” doesn’t give practical advice so instead, I will end with the advice: eat sweets in a way that is sustainable for your body.