We all know that too much sugar is bad for us, but sometimes we can’t help but over-indulge. And for most of us, that comes in the form of chocolate. A post-lunch pick-me-up, or maybe a snack on the commute home, it’s surprising how much we can consume without realising.
But what would happen if we cut it out completely and went cold-turkey? We recently spoke with Dr Luke James from Bupa UK who did exactly that. Here’s what he learned when he tried to tame his sweet tooth…
Changing your eating habits is incredibly hard
Many of us are creatures of habit, so making one simple change like cutting out chocolate, becomes a challenge. This is because habits become automatic, learned behaviours that start to feel normal and part of our everyday routine. I found myself regularly munching my way through two family-sized bags of treats in between seeing patients. And after looking at the pile of empty wrappers, I realised it was time to teach myself to resist and curb my addiction.
Chocolate can give you a ‘gratification spike’
Both our stomach and brain are tuned into reacting after we eat sugary treats. Studies have shown that when you eat chocolate, certain parts of your brain activate and release a ‘gratification spike’. And this can happen almost instantly too. You may start to feel satisfaction after eating even just a few bites. Even thinking about chocolate can have the same effect!
But it’s no different to any other habit that’s bad for you
We do need to be careful though because studies have shown that eating chocolate can produce a similar reaction to more addictive substances, like tobacco and morphine. It can cause the release of certain neurotransmitters which our brain and body get used to.
The first three days were the worst…
I was starving, moody and irritable. I certainly wasn’t the best company to be around! And I began to notice how much I was relying on chocolate as an everyday pick-me-up. In the end, I used protein shakes and bars to help take the edge off. These contained a small amount of carbohydrates that helped me get through the first few days of my challenge.
After the first 10 days I lost my ‘sweet tooth’ desire
I no longer had the urge to grab a chocolate pick-me-up, or even grab the biscuit tin when I got home! I felt like I was making progress and finally began to feel the benefits.
I needed to go cold-turkey to succeed
Many of us give up on our diets quickly because we don’t realise how much we’re relying on something. If you completely remove that substance, you can begin to see the effect it has on you. Going cold-turkey helped kick start my journey to being healthier and consuming less sugar. I struggled for the first three days, but gradually started to feel better as the week went on.
It’s OK to fluctuate
Whilst you’re trying to find balance, it’s alright to have good and bad days. I recently went on holiday and treated myself to pastries, chocolate and alcohol. The week after I cut out all of these things and tried to follow a diet that was low in carbohydrates. We need to get comfortable with fluctuating occasionally. Some weeks will be better, and that’s alright.
Remember to treat yourself, but within reason
It’s alright to reward yourself now and again. One way to do this is to ‘cycle your carbs’, starting with Monday and ending on Friday. In this time you should try to eat low carbohydrates, eat more protein and lay off the alcohol. On Fridays and Saturdays you can take your foot off the pedal and treat yourself. It will vary from person to person, but I’ve found this works best for me.
I’m not alone
Most of us at some point will feel like we’d like to change something about our lifestyle. Perhaps it’s reducing your alcohol intake, or going to the gym more. For me it was all about trying to wean myself off chocolate. It’s important to remember that we are all in a similar position. I found that talking about my challenge with friends and family helped to keep me motivated.
Chocolate is great, but best enjoyed in moderation
Chocolate, in small amounts, can even be good for us. Studies have found that dark chocolate can be beneficial for our health; with some showing it can lower blood pressure. But we need to remember that chocolate isn’t good for us when we eat too much of it. It’s all about having the right amount of control and knowing when enough is enough. It’s easier said than done, though!
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