“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
– Charles M. Shulz, Cartoonist
Valentine’s Day. It is a day bursting with red and pink, flowers and hearts, all in the middle of the chill of February. As with so many other holidays, Valentine’s Day can conjure a mix of feelings and memories. As children, many of us share memories of painstakingly filling out cards for our grade school classmates, and trading candy conversation hearts of “cutie pie” or “luv u” with friends. As an adult, many of hold memories of love, of romance, and sometimes of heartbreak and loneliness. And of course, there is candy.
For someone working to recover from an eating disorder, Valentine’s Day can present a bit of a challenge on the candy front. Sugar and candy can be source of ambivalence and mixed emotions. For some, sugar may represent a fear food, or one that conjures reminders of engaging in binge-type behaviors. These unsettling memories and emotions can be further exacerbated in a society that frequently inundates us with media stories about the “dangers” of sugar. At Reasons, we thought this would be the perfect time to clear the air about good ol’ C12H22O11.
Sugar is one of the basic building blocks of what runs our bodies. Glucose is essentially the sole source of fuel for the brain, except in times of prolonged starvation. Simply put, we need glucose to survive. And sugar is also not at the root of many major diseases, contrary to the confusing messages we receive from news sources and magazines. Let’s take diabetes as an example. Major diabetes organizations have dispelled the myth that eating sugar causes diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. Type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance and pancreatic failure, and appears to have a strong genetic component. Let’s take dental health as another example. Sugar, in fact, does not cause cavities. Acid is the root cause of tooth decay.
Beyond perceived bodily health risk, many people cite concerns that sugar is as addictive as hard drugs like cocaine or heroin. While some studies indicate that sugar activates the reward center in the brain, none of those studies controlled for deprivation. Additional research done in rats shows that when sugar intake is not restricted, sugar’s addictive properties are not activated. In other words, when we deprive ourselves of sugar, we might be setting our brain’s up for a giant Catch 22. We crave the “forbidden fruit” not because we are addicted, but because we think it is forbidden.
Cutting out sugar completely can also be a sign of Orthorexia, a dangerous obsession with “healthy eating.” In fact, restricting entire food groups of any kind can be a risk factor for the development of an eating disorder, and potentially a warning sign that someone is struggling. If you or a loved on notice signs and symptoms of food restriction, reach out to a professional to seek guidance.
So today, and every day, we are officially giving you permission to eat your Valentine’s Day candy with gusto! We’ll even go one step further. If you open up a box of chocolates from your sweetheart or yourself, and you bite into a mystery piece that you don’t like – throw it away. Find your favorite flavor – and enjoy.