In the Spring 2013 issue of Massage Therapy Journal, the featured cover story was on massage and addiction. The article outlined how massage therapy can alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal and create a space for trust in the healing process. It led me to explore the link between my studies on food cravings while training to be a health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. After all, cravings are at the root of addiction.
Perhaps one of the most well known cravings, besides alcohol and tobacco, is sugar. Sugar is the MOST addictive food substance on earth. Partially because what happens chemically in our bodies – we are made to need sugar in any way we can get it to convert into energy. Back in Shiatsu class at the Swedish Institute, we tested the body’s physical reaction to sugar. Everyone dusted their fingertip with sugar crystals. With two of the free fingers, we all took our radial pulse for 10 seconds. Then we licked the sugared-finger clean. Taking the pulse again, most of us found there was an immediate quickening! Why is this? Sugar is the number one source of energy for the body. The body breaks down all forms of sugar into glucose to use for energy. With processed sugar, the glucose conversion takes minutes, immediately triggering the body’s metabolism response. The metabolism response can result in increased heart rate, blood pressure and even mental alertness. How’s that for an instantaneous example of why sugar is synonymous with cravings? Cravings are the body’s way of telling you need more of something.
Here’s where the dangerous addiction comes in: processed and/or hidden added sugars. They are in virtually everything (bread, almost all sauces and salad dressings, and flavored yogurt to name a few)! With its ubiquity, refined/processed sugar can easily become the body’s quick fix for energy. Unfortunately, it’s just not quite the fuel the body needs for running smoothly, so it continually asks for more – and the sweeter, more processed, the less long term energy you get. Soon you’re in a vicious cycle that never satisfies – except emotionally, during the joyful moments you are eating it. (For a more scientific discussion of just exactly how and why this happens, check out this blog post in Scientific American, or this New York Times article entitled, Is Sugar Toxic?)
Those blissful, tasty moments of and after consuming a lavish dessert or good piece of chocolate we remember with all of our senses (thanks in part to some neurotransmitters, namely dopamine). Maybe seeing an apple pie, or just the mention of it takes you back to mom’s cooking, so you WANT that apple pie fix with ice cream now (or maybe just the ice cream, or of course even chocolate will do when a pie is not around to remind you of home). Not only is there a physical link with the immediate taste satisfaction, an emotional one is created as well – the desire for familiarity and self-soothing. Chemically speaking, it’s you wanting your brain to secrete more stimulating dopamine!
The massage and addiction article sums up one of the main reasons kicking any habit can become insurmountable in two words: emotional dissociation. According to the author, it’s this disconnection from our bodies that creates an even bigger obstacle for overcoming addiction. The more we are able to connect all the senses to what is really going in in our bodies, the easier it is for our bodies to use its innate ability to heal itself. In health coaching, the main focus is on guiding a client through this process with listening and talking. With massage, it is all non-verbal which can be a blessing in those first steps of realizing there is a problem, and to help alleviate the symptoms of what happens when it’s front and center (e.g. withdrawl – where dopamine levels drop). Those who are regular Somata readers already know how massage helps: massage triggers dopamine and seratonin production (without ingesting anything!).
My studies at IIN taught me how to overcome my addiction to sugar and replace it with the type my body needs for energy. Different people are going to need their own method or path that is right for their own bodies (one of the reasons why not everyone’s pulse quickened with the sugar-finger experiment, or why some peoples’ go-to is pie and others chocolate, or ice cream, alcohol, cigarettes, etc). Whether it be a complete cleanse from all sugar/addictive substances, a gradual replacement of the less processed/harmful variety, or verbal or non-verbal complimentary therapies, it IS possible to get a handle on the cravings with a little patience and persistence. To do this, is absolutely necessary to acknowledge the emotional AND physical addiction to sugar in order to address it.
Ready to address your bad eating habits? Or have any other questions about addiction and cravings? Drop me a line for a free consult to find out what path is best to for you achieve your goals. I’d be honored to help.