Many people have the desire to transform their health by eating better, but have busy lives, challenging health problems, or are firmly entrenched in life-long habits they feel powerless to change. A major overhaul can be quite overwhelming. Of course, while a complete diet makeover makes for more immediate health results, even baby-steps in the right direction are worth the effort. Inspired by the Archevore’s 12-step plan for diet change, I decided to create my own riff on this type of approach. Here’s the first installment.
Step 1: Nix addictions and sweetened sodas and beverages.
If you use addictive substances casually and tell yourself you could quit any time, just do it. Allowed to progress, over time, addiction is a disease that alters your brain. Addiction researchers describe a full-blown addicted brain as a primitive fix-seeking machine on the level of a brain of a reptile or amphibian. Sounds like some kind of Sleestak. Yikes! The good news is, healing is possible, and breaking free from your addiction and staying free will reverse the alterations.
If your addiction is mild, find other ways to deal with stress. Make changes to your routine to avoid circumstances or people where you will find it difficult to resist temptation. Many have found natural remedies and/or supplements helpful to ease cravings, even with more serious addictions. Recovery programs and 12-step groups can help with long-term recovery, but remember, following a nutrient-dense diet that eliminates junk foods, refined flours and sugars is necessary for healing the damage done to your body, keeping cravings at bay, and preventing relapses.
Why am I grouping the addictions with sodas and beverages? Because, people who smoke cigarettes or drink too much alcohol usually know they need to quit, but unfortunately, some people who drink soda, Starbucks, or even juice drinks everyday think these beverages are either benign or only mildly harmful. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Sugars, along with other refined carbohydrates, activate the same pleasure centers in the brain as crack cocaine. Plus, sugary drinks are loaded with calories which don’t fill you up. If you eat a food with the same calories as in a soda, your body adjusts its hunger cues and sends your brain the signal you are full. After consuming a sugary drink, your body doesn’t feel satiation at all, and you are still hungry for more calories. In effect, you are now primed to over-eat! Blood sugar spikes are also a leading cause of insulin resistance and a precursor to diabetes, hypoglycemia, not to mention irritability, anxiety and brain fog.
What about artificially sweetened diet sodas and drinks? A Purdue University study found that artificial sweeteners alter brain chemistry and effect metabolism ultimately causing cravings, over-eating and weight gain. Dukey (sorry, couldn’t resist) University researchers fed mice sucralose and they got fat. Some cattle are routinely fed neotame (the new-aspartame) because it causes them to get fat. If that still doesn’t deter you, how about all the health problems linked to artificial sweeteners?
Headaches/migraines, bloating, abdominal pain, heartburn, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain, rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, tachycardia, insomnia, vision problems, hearing loss, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, loss of taste, tinnitus, vertigo, memory loss, and joint pain.
The approval of the artificial sweetener aspartame (E951- aka Nutrasweet) was the most contested in FDA history. It was clearly shown to cause brain tumors in animals! The approval was not based on any scientific grounds but was granted due to political and financial pressure. Water is sounding better and better by the minute, isn’t it?!
Actually, if well-tolerated, unsweetened coffee and tea are good replacements in moderation. There are some lacto-fermented beverages you can make at home which are quite beneficial. Water kefir actually tastes like homemade soda, and my kids love it. Kombucha, a home-brewed tea with natural carbonation and multiple tonic effects on the body, is also useful to cut down on sugar and alcohol cravings.
Take that first baby-step to change today. You will start to feel better and be energized to do even more. The human body has remarkable resilience and ability to renew itself. Exorcize that inner Sleestak and get out of the ‘Land of the Lost’ for good!!