If you had rodents in your house and you discovered that they were there because they were attracted to food you were leaving out on your kitchen counter, what is the first thing you would do?
You would stop leaving food out, right?
If you had mold growing under your kitchen cabinets and you discovered that it was due to a leaky pipe, you would fix the pipe.
It’s no secret that there is a direct link between sugar-sweetened drinks and obesity. This is not news. It’s one of the reasons millions of people switched to diet soda’s and sugar-free drinks back in the 1980s (The only problem with that is that artificial sweeteners fire up your body’s demand for more calories, suppress your appetite-regulating hormone, leptin, and generate more fat cells to protect your body from the aspartic acid. So, it’s actually making the same problem worse in some ways). Still, soft drink manufacturers sell billions of dollars worth of their garbage every year.
If you want to take back control of your health, it starts here.
Take Back Control Of Your Health
Now, I realize that I live my life saturating in a constant flood of medical research, while the average American doesn’t have access to any unless they actively Google it. And face it, it’s not exactly front-of-mind for most people.
But at some point, there has to be some kind of correlation in people’s minds between the foods they eat and their expanding waistlines. I understand if people don’t make the connection between diet and asthma, or between diet and arthritis, but anyone can see that people who eat certain types of food consistently get fat and stay fat. And unless you are truly brain-washed, you have to recognize that your “health-nut” friends who only eat organic vegetables and lean meats are consistently slim, whether they exercise regularly or not.
Some people don’t give any thought to what they shove in their mouths. As long as they enjoy the flavor and it makes them feel good for awhile, they have their reward. While their metabolism sustains their habit, it’s “no harm, no foul.” They eat blissfully unaware.
But when does that stop for most people?
Typically, from what I can see, a heart attack is the slap on the head that finally wakes most people up. They wake up one day in the ICU, and their doctor hands them a new meal plan with most of the fat and sugar cut out. I’d love to go off on a tangent about my medical colleagues’ general view of fat and sugar, but that’s a rant for another time.
Recognizing the Red Flags
What if we could prevent the heart attack by recognizing a few red flags and making some simple lifestyle changes over time? Here are couple you should watch for:
I don’t imagine that too many people go from a 30-inch waist to a 40-inch waist without noticing the transformation in the mirror along the way. Granted, more and and more people are becoming obese at a younger age, so they may never recognize the transition from baby fat to obesity, but that’s still not the norm. It happens to most of us in our 40s and 50s. We think it’s part of the normal process of aging. They call it, “my chest just fell into my drawers” and they laugh as though it is normal to grow a protruding gut in your 40s and 50s. It’s not.
An expanding waistline is a warning sign that you are on the slippery slope to diabetes and it should be a red flag that something in your diet needs to change.
Inconsistent Energy Levels
Another red flag should be that you have spikes and valleys of energy. That’s not supposed to be normal. You shouldn’t have to prop yourself up with soda and coffee all day.
Another red flag should be that you have difficulty concentrating for very long or you suffer from brain fog or irritability. That’s not supposed to be normal. It’s a clear red flag that you are dehydrated. Sugar-sweetened drinks typically contain large amounts of caffeine, which depletes water from your body.
Are you always craving food, especially sweets? That’s not normal.
Make Adjustments As Soon As You See The Flag
The earlier you see it, the earlier you can make adjustments, and the easier those adjustments will be. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. That applies here. If you don’t change behaviors early on, they form strongholds in your mind.
Here’s the thing I’ve learned in working with patients: no-one makes a complete 180-degree lifestyle overhaul easily. Some people have enormous will power and can stand strong to overcome their bodies’ long-established cravings for their favorite foods, but most people cave pretty quickly. I’ve literally had people tell me they would rather die than give up their favorite foods. And that, frankly, is a choice they will get to make.
Pattern Refinement Can Lead To Better Health
When I talk about “pattern refinement,” I’m usually referring to the process of adapting your muscle memory to form habits around specific healthy movements, but it also applies to patterns of diet. Small changes – good or bad – have profound effects over time, but if you can master this process, you can win the war.
What if we could let go of one favorite food that we know intellectually is harmful to our bodies but we still crave, like sugar-sweetened soft drinks? Would that change improve your health?
Rewrite A Bad Old Habit
Let’s say you have a habit when you are bored at home of walking over to the pantry and taking out a bag of chips and eating them until the bag is empty or you just don’t enjoy them anymore. That’s a pretty common pattern. Have you ever mindlessly wandered into a room and just started eating something without paying any attention to what you were doing – like a bowl of candy or chips? We all do it at times.
What if we could refine that pattern just a little by walking past the pantry and grabbing a carrot out of the refrigerator? So, instead of grabbing a bag of chips, we grab a carrot and refine the snacking pattern to incorporate something healthy.
Now, I know that replacing chips with a carrot is a cliche. It could be a cucumber or a radish for all I care. Look past the details and watch the principle at work.
Rather than try to muster up the will power to resist the pattern of going straight to the bag of chips (and eventually failing), we follow through on the behavior and just substitute something healthy. Now we have refined the pattern.
Why Is That Pattern So Strong?
But, you might say, chips have an enjoyable flavor and carrots don’t. Do you know why that is true? Because chemical companies research the flavor receptors in the brain and develop concentrations of stimulants that activate those receptors. They are manipulating you with pleasure: it’s no different from drug use, pornography, or any other destructive habit.
This is where we have to follow through on the pattern refinement to get the full benefit. As you adjust the muscle memory of the physical behavior from the pantry to the refrigerator and put the replacement food in your mouth, your brain will begin to accept the new input. Oh sure, your tastebuds will initially reject the carrot because they are programmed to desire the stimulation of the chips. But over time, you will refine the pattern in your taste receptors.
Relearn What Each Stimulus Means To You
Have you ever had a favorite food that you used to crave and now you hate it? I used to drink Coca-Cola several times a day. I really enjoyed it. But I recognized that it was going to run counter to my desire to be an effective wellness coach well into my 90s, so I had to stop drinking it. Now, I don’t enjoy it. My brain has released that old program and accepted a new one that enjoys water.
You can reprogram your brain IF you are willing to push through the initial resistance that comes with overwriting an old pattern.
And that’s where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it?
Can You Overcome A Bad Program You Enjoy?
I have a friend who has a pornography habit. I don’t make a practice of knowing that kind of thing about people, but it became public when his marriage ended over it. He lost everything and the stress just about ended his life. That was the life-altering event that woke him up to the destructiveness of his favorite pleasure pattern.
Coca-Cola (like so many other processed foods) is like pornography to your vital organs: it might stimulate a sense of pleasure, but it is ultimately destroying the system. The thing is, it’s not that most people don’t know that sugar-sweetened beverage are destructive to their bodies. I don’t think anyone makes the mistake of believing Coke and Diet Coke promote good health. They just do what feels good without giving any thought to possible consequences, even if they know the consequences. It takes a life-altering (or life-ending) event like a heart attack to force them to change the behaviors, and then it’s an uphill climb.
Can you beat the sugar addiction? Make no mistake about it: scientists may debate whether sugar has exactly the same neurotransmitter effects as heroin or meth, but if you have ever tried to get it out of your diet and keep it out, you understand how intense the withdrawal process can be. It’s a drug that ruins your health as it digs its claws into your psyche.
My Challenge To You
If sugar has a stronghold in your life, I will never tell you to cut it off cold-turkey (unless you’re coming out of heart bypass surgery and your medical doctor concurs). Instead, I want to encourage you to make small steps toward preventing the heart attack, cardiovascular disease, stroke, arthritis, and 35 other diseases associated with obesity. It’s easier to make small changes to patterns than a complete overhaul. No matter how strong-willed you are, you are setting yourself up for failure when you quit anything cold-turkey. And if you’ve been
Instead, identify one favorite food that you know isn’t good for you, but you can’t live without, and leave it behind. Give yourself 30 days without it. My Catholic friends do this for 40 days at Lent, with mixed results. Most of them go back to the fasted behavior when it’s over. I want to see if you cut off the unhealthy behavior and keep it gone.
It’s not as difficult as you might think, and the results are worth it. You might find you lose a bunch of weight, experience more energy, or enjoy clearer thinking. Sure, there will be that first time you want to give in to the pressure of your favorite craving, but if you will press through that, it gets much easier. You may even find you admire yourself a little more for being so strong. A win in this area can be a powerful self-esteem booster.
Share The Good News
Like I said earlier, I think most people are aware of the dangers of sugar, but they need a little encouragement to take the plunge and let something go. You can be that encouragement. Take a few seconds right now to share this post on your favorite social media channel. You never know who is looking for this information right now.
“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas