Coping with Those Holiday Urges to Binge on
Holiday binges. It starts with the candy corn
of Halloween and continues all the way to the chocolate bunnies
of Easter. Those bite size candy bars look so inviting. Just one
won't hurt, will it? But it sets off a binge and you can't stop
until the whole bag is gone. Then comes the guilt. Why are we so
powerless against those sweet little bits of chocolate-coated
One theory is that carbohydrates stimulate
serotonin production and thus eating them is an attempt to
self-medicate depression. Studies focused on this link do seem
to back this up. High carbohydrate meals raise serotonin1 while
fatty or protein rich meals tend to lower it. The type of
carbohydrate chosen seems to be based upon it's glycemic index,
or how high it causes blood sugar levels to peak. The higher
glycemic index carbohydrates like sugar have a greater effect2
on serotonin than starchy, lower glycemic index foods like
And it's not just sugar that we crave.
There's chocolate. Certain alkaloids3
have been isolated in chocolate that may raise brain serotonin
levels. Scientists now speculate that "chocoholism" may actually
have a real biological basis4 with a serotonin
deficiency being one factor. Another mechanism5 that
has been proposed for why chocolate has such a powerful
influence on mood is that chocolate has 'drug-like' constituents
including anandamines, caffeine, and phenylethylamine.
During the holiday season there are many
opportunities to indulge our sweet tooth and when stress or
sadness strike our first impulse may be to pick up a cookie or
piece of candy to help us cope. Unfortunately these frequent
indulgences can be sources of weight gain, guilt and further
depressed feelings. What can one do to cope with these urges?
Here are a few tips from the experts:
- Be honest with yourself about how deep
your problems with food go. If overeating has become a way
of life you may have an eating disorder that requires
professional assistance to overcome.
- Certain medications can stimulate
appetite or blood sugar problems, including those for the
treatment of depression and bipolar disorder. Other drugs,
both prescription and over the counter, may influence
appetite as well. Discuss with your doctor or pharmacist
whether any of your current medications may be affecting
your appetite for sweets. You may be able to find an
alternative that doesn't send your cravings out of control.
- Become aware of your emotional triggers
for eating. The next time you pick up a "comfort food" ask
yourself why you are eating it. Bored? Do something you
enjoy other than eating. Feeling neglected? Pamper yourself
with a bubble bath or a good book.
- Distract yourself by doing something
else. Chances are the craving will pass.
- One great way to feel better fast?
Exercise. Exercise stimulates the feel-better chemicals
called endorphins and improves your mood.
- Drink a glass of water. Sometimes our
body mistakes the feeling of dehydration for hunger.
- If you're hungry, eat, but eat well.
Sugar cravings are the strongest when you are hungry. Eat
good foods with a promise to yourself that if you want it
you may have a dessert after your meal. Chances are you
won't even want it once your hunger is satisfied.
- If you slip, don't beat yourself up over
it. You're a work in progress. Mistakes will happen. Dust
yourself off and keep trying.
- Don't completely deprive yourself. Find
healthier substitutes for what you're craving. Try eating a
sugar free chocolate pudding instead of that large chocolate
bar. Or allow yourself a small portion of the dessert that
you are coveting so much. No food is totally bad. It's all
in how much you eat of it.
- Be mindful of what you are consuming
rather than grazing all day. A food journal can be very
- Rouch C, Nicolaidis S, Orosco M.
Determination, using microdialysis, of hypothalamic
serotonin variations in response to different
macronutrients. Physiol Behav 1999 Jan
- Lyons PM, Truswell AS. Serotonin
precursor influenced by type of carbohydrate meal in healthy
adults. Am J Clin Nutr 1988 Mar;47(3):433-9.
- Herraiz T. Tetrahydro-beta-carbolines,
potential neuroactive alkaloids, in chocolate and cocoa.
J Agric Food Chem 2000 Oct;48(10):4900-4.
- Bruinsma K, Taren DL. Chocolate: food or
drug? J Am Diet Assoc 1999 Oct;99(10):1249-56.
- Benton D, Donohoe RT. The effects of
nutrients on mood. Public Health Nutr 1999