What could be better for your heart than living the sweet life? Not much. Studies show that a happy person with a positive attitude and a rich, rewarding life will have better heart health than someone with the opposite personality traits—even if the happy, positive person eats a poor diet or has some unhealthy lifestyle habits. Why? Because the happy person is continuously producing high levels of a gas called nitric oxide from her blood vessel walls—the uber neurotransmitter produced by everything from pleasurable thoughts to eating green vegetables. High nitric oxide levels, in turn, result not only in much better circulation, but also in high levels of serotonin and beta-endorphins—the feel good hormones that are so satisfying you won’t turn to sugar.
Sugar—whether in white foods, candy, or alcohol—acts like an opiate in the body. Eating foods that quickly turn to sugar quite literally medicates pain—both emotional and physical. But beware. Sugar is eight times more addictive than heroin in susceptible individuals. If you use sugar to boost your mood, to hold at bay feelings of longing or loneliness, or to improve your tolerance for physical pain, you’ll find yourself in a vicious cycle that makes it very difficult to stop eating sugar. This is not about willpower or your being “bad.” It’s about understanding the chemistry that fuels cravings and then doing something about it.
To recover from sugar addiction, you need alternative activities that raise your nitric oxide levels and thus “happy” neurotransmitter levels in your brain and body. Think about the last time you were madly and deeply in love. Were you craving sugar or other illicit means to boost your self-esteem? No. You felt high on life—emotionally full—and probably thought very little about food, unless it was to plan a romantic dinner.
Bad habits are hard to break. You have to replace the habits with something you enjoy even more. This keeps you from craving sugar or whatever other addiction is undermining your health. There are four activities that will help you break your sugar addiction, and if you ask me, these are much more enjoyable then even the gooiest chocolate brownie. They are sex, exercise, meditation, and engaging in regular, pleasurable activities.
- Sex. ‘Nough said! If you don’t have a partner, be your own partner! Set the stage for self-pleasuring starting with a luxuriating activity like stretching followed by a bubble bath, reading a steamy novel, or creating a sexy playlist.
- Exercise. Exercising 30-45 minutes a day, 4-5 days per week is not only great for your heart, studies show it can decrease depression by 50%. This can be as simple as taking a walk!
- Meditation. A stressful lifestyle in which you are working too hard, worrying too much, and sleeping too little results in high levels of the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. And these stress hormones cause us to crave sugar and put on weight. Like exercise, meditation is an excellent way to lower stress hormones.
- Engaging in regular, pleasurable activities. Have lots of contact with humans or pets. Dancing, potluck suppers, celebrations, or going to the theater are some ideas. Or do something you’ve always wanted to do—and find a new social group to do it with. This is one of the best ways to increase nitric oxide levels.
One of the most pleasurable things I do is either go out to eat in a nice restaurant with good friends and family or cook with others here at home. Who you eat with and how you eat matters! Those who regularly sit down to eat dinner with others are far healthier than those who eat standing up or in the car. I know that I just don’t feel as satisfied when I eat alone—even if I eat the exact same food! And if the food isn’t particularly healthy, pray over it before eating it. It will help elevate the entire experience.
You have the power to create a sweet life—while also keeping your blood sugar stable. GET FULL OF THE JOY OF LIFE. Deliberately pursue healthy and sustainable pleasure, so you can savor the real sweet life!
p.s. If you’re not ready to give up sweets entirely—or if you’re someone who is satisfied with just one bite—here is a happy compromise: Eat sweets only with others—in celebration. Look at your calendar in advance. And choose the one day of the week or month when you can eat whatever you want. Savor sweets slowly, like you were dancing in the moonlight with a lover. Eat sensually and joyously. You will notice that you feel satisfied with far less food.
Blog by Dr. Christiane Northrup