My struggle with holiday addictions…food for thought

I don’t know about you, but I’m relieved “The Holidays” are behind us. It’s depressing, how every freaking New Year I must embark on the wretched process of detox from a six-week steady diet of sugar, lard and beer. Resolutions and promises to maintain a healthy diet over “The Holidays” shatter like a dropped chocolate chip cookie, usually right after dinner on Thanksgiving Day (another piece of pecan pie, Mark?)
Birthdays and other one-day holiday food fests are easier handled. I can have a couple brats, eat some cake and ice cream, then get back on “the wagon of restraint.” But the mass junk-food gluttony of “The Holidays” now stretches from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day…maybe even to Super Bowl Sunday, thanks to college bowl games and NFL playoffs. Ah, the temptation of wings, pizza and beer is too much.
In a dietary “perfect world,” Thanksgiving would fall one week before Christmas and the Super Bowl would be played on New Year’s Day. Bing, bang, boom: done with “The Holidays” in three weeks instead of three months. Consider the massive reductions in consumption of sugar, flour (sugar), artery clogging animal fat and alcohol (more sugar)…not to mention subsequent reductions in meaningless New Year’s resolutions to lose weight gained over “The Holidays.” In fact, why not lump Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s into one holiday, sort of like they did with  “President’s Day?” Problem solved.
My cholesterol and triglyceride levels reach immoral proportions this time every year. Alas, my feet are made of confectionary clay. If gluttony is indeed a sin as Proverbs 23:2 proclaims, we are instructed to deal with it by “putting a knife to our throats.” That’s the problem with Biblical paradigms, discerning literal from metaphor. Beyond further clogging hardened arteries, it’s the extra girth sugar and junk food adds to my waist and man-boobs that bothers me most. This year I’m embarrassed to show up at Ouray’s Hot Springs Pool. And Orvis? Over my dead body, metaphorically speaking. It’s frustrating, and adds fuel to my “wintertime blues.”
Then I read about a new study that suggests a “link” between sugar intake and depression in men. Interesting…right when my Seasonal Affective Disorder and sugar intake are peaking. Perhaps that explains my recurring “wintertime blues,” why I look and feel about as lethargic as the Denver Broncos offense. That it’s “The Holidays,” a time of supposed cheer and giving, doesn’t help. Box after box of treats arrive at my doorstep, courtesy of Fed Ex and well meaning friends and relatives. Thus I end up self-medicating my depression with the cause of my depression.
What’s with this craving for something that’s so bad for us? I decide to Google for the answer and discover that ingestion of sugar causes a rush of dopamine, the brain’s “happy” chemical. Dopamine produces a high not unlike heroin, and, according to a study review paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, evidence implicates that sugar might even act as a gateway “drug” to alcohol and other addictive substances (Hmm. Perhaps that explains my affection for IPAs). The paper goes on to say, “Sugar, like cocaine, is refined from plants into pure white crystals” and “significantly adds to their addictive properties.”
Authors of the review paper point to similarities between the effects of cocaine and sugar on the brain, that “they both interact with the same reward system” (dopamine), and that “consuming sugar produces effects similar to that of cocaine, altering mood…through its ability to induce reward and pleasure,” which leads to seeking out more sugar.
Rodent studies demonstrate that sweetness is preferred over cocaine and that mice experience symptoms of sugar withdrawal when cut off. Authors of the paper, cardiovascular research scientist James J. DiNicolantonio and cardiologist James H. O’Keefe (Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute), together with physician William Wilson (US Lahey Health), concur that sugar “is wreaking havoc on our health.”
Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics at the University of California San Francisco, goes so far as to state “sugar is addictive” and argues that it has become “the alcohol of the child.” A trip to any Walmart would seem to prove him out. How does a harried parent quiet screaming toddlers? By shoving something sweet in their mouths.
Now more than ever, children are faced with abundant food choices that either contain ridiculously high amounts of sugar and/or carbohydrates (which our bodies process as sugar). Due to its trigger effect on dopamine, evidence suggests that sugar might even be a “gateway drug” and play a role in America’s spiraling drug problem.
Just a little “food for thought” next time you’re about to choose junk food over something healthy. Now if you will excuse me, it’s time for a long snowshoe up Red Mountain. I’ve got 15 pounds of fat to lose…again.

Mark Johnson is a restless soul who lives in Ouray, Colorado with his wife, Bobbie. He is happiest when explor- ing the West's nooks and crannies, hiking, climbing and mountain biking. He authors a "wanderlust" based bloog: