The holiday season is here. For some people, this can be a season of joy whereas for others it can be the opposite. However, one thing in common for many people this time of year is the rise in food intake and the amount of sugar we put in our bodies.
According to the American Heart Association, the average American adult consumes 22 teaspoons of “added” sugar per day! This far exceeds the recommended guideline of six teaspoons per day for women and nine for men. And for many people, these numbers can skyrocket during the holiday season.
Sugar, sugar – it’s in just about everything!
Food manufacturers have done a wonderful job at harnessing our natural love of sweet foods and making them abundantly available – of course, I am being sarcastic here. Cheap, refined sugar – e.g. high fructose corn syrup – is in just about everything from bread, drinks, packaged foods, tomato sauce, etc.
While cheap and refined sugar is not classified as a drug, many deem it should be. When the sugar satisfies our taste buds we want more. And the food manufacturers know this.
Why do we crave sugar?
One reason is we may be experiencing a blood sugar crash in which we may have gone too long without eating, or we have had something overly sweet and now our blood sugar crashes. When this happens our body can remind us that a vending machine is just around the corner.
Depression and stress are other big culprits. For those who suffer from depression or are dealing with chronic stress, sweets can become “comfort food.” They give the brain a boost in serotonin and the sweeter the food the bigger the boost.
People who suffer from chronic pain can also get into the sweets more. Similar to those who battle depression or are dealing with chronic stress, refined sugar shoots serotonin to the brain, which can provide a temporary relief from the pain.
To make matters worse, studies indicate a strong correlation between excess refined sugar intakes causing inflammation, which can lead to all sorts of disorders including chronic pain.
For many people, making a simple adjustment to their diets by cutting out or drastically cutting down on refined sugar over a certain period of time can dramatically reduce the pain. Some people can even get off prescription painkillers!
What’s interesting to note is that natural sugar – sugar from fruits and veggies has not been linked to inflammation.
Natural sugars are usually consumed within whole foods and are often accompanied by other essential nutrients such as fiber and protein, which can cause the natural sugars to be absorbed slowly – thus preventing blood sugar spikes.
So is eating more natural, unprocessed foods the answer?
However, it is also important to incorporate an overall healthier lifestyle to help reduce the intake of refined sugars.
Exercise – both aerobic and anaerobic can help protect against weight gain and inflammation. Managing stress levels through relaxation techniques and exercise can also greatly help.
For those who suffer from chronic pain, manual physical therapy combined with therapeutic exercise can greatly aid in the recovery process, which can also result in fewer cravings for refined sugars.
Yoga is actually a great practice to incorporate when combined with physical therapy as it can help with the treatment of stress, anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. It can also help with an increased feeling of relaxation, a greater sense of well-being, improved strength, self-confidence and body image.
While it is easier said than done, especially this time of year, making a conscious decision to cut down on the refined sugars can greatly help you avoid inflammation that can lead to serious health issues. Gradually (re)introducing more natural whole foods into your diet is a great place to start.
And if you are experiencing chronic pain or stress, incorporating manual physical therapy and therapeutic exercise can help to cut down on the refined sugar cravings, which can also greatly reduce inflammation in your body.
Marge Kalfon is the founder of PT by Marge and is a licensed physical therapist in Virginia. She graduated with her Masters of Science in Physical Therapy from Thomas Jefferson University in 1992. Since then, she has practiced in a wide variety of settings ranging from large hospitals to small private practices. She has extensive training and experience with a wide variety of manual therapy techniques as well as orthopedic and neurological rehabilitation.