Many of you know that a brave subset of our athletes and coaches are in the midst of a 30 day food challenge. No sugar, no grains, no dairy, no processed foods. We are 17 days in as of this writing. By now, we’ve figured out how to cook meals, snack, and even explain our weird eating habits in social situations. Without exception, we are feeling better, looking better, sleeping better, and have more energy. But it still isn’t easy. Not by any stretch. Even last night as I’m frustrated by a chicken that won’t cook fast enough, fourth grade homework that won’t magically complete itself, and a first grader that wants to “help” wash the dishes, I can’t stop thinking about how a glass of wine would make this situation so much better. Why? Because I’ve engrained that drink as a response to being tired and feeling stress…week after week, month after month, year after year. My brain reacts to it with a release of dopamine that makes me feel better.
There is a recent study out that may help to explain some of this, as well as why 95% of all pounds lost through dieting are regained in 1 to 5 years. The study was published in Nutrition and Diabetes and you can find the article [here]. Oustside Online [here] does a nice interpretation of the study. There are definitely some holes, but their hypothesis is that we’ve learned to identify eating (particularly highly palatable foods) as a coping strategy for negative emotions and stress. Most of us already knew that. Additionally, they demonstrated dopamine release and activity in the brain’s addiction and reward center when participants were merely shown pictures of junk food. They had basically hard wired their brains to release dopamine at the mere thought of these foods. The good news is that they were able to work with these participants to mute this response or to recognize more healthy options as equally rewarding. Please ignore their example of substituting fat free ice cream and whole grain cereal as a more healthy option than an ice cream sundae. (We all know that full-fat promotes better insulin response and satiety and that cereal is not fit for human consumption.)
So what does all this mean? Well, it probably doesn’t mean that I’ll never go back to my 6 PM cocktail when I’m feeling tired or overwhelmed. But I can now recognize that I’m dealing with a biochemical response that I strengthen every time I choose this coping mechanism. It’s certainly enough to make me think…and I’d like to hope that that sparkling water with lemon can occasionally serve as a passable substitute.