I often ask my patients if they have any particular food cravings. Most of the people I’ve asked tell me they crave sweets. What’s that all about? Is it an evil plot to make you gain weight? Actually, no. Biologically, it’s just how we were designed to roll.
Sugar is a very basic form of energy. Our bodies live off of this fuel source. Yet, too much sugar in the blood stream is toxic, so we as a species have also gotten very good at converting excess sugar in the blood stream into fat, another excellent energy source that is used when food is scarce. These things were once vital for survival and rarely would you find a fat aboriginal being of any kind. However, as we as humans stopped beating each other to death for food and started working together, we were able to form town and an urban lifestyle. Relative peace over time has led to trade agreements and the ability to exchange goods or money for the food we need to eat which is now grown and gathered by someone else. Prosperity, which is also rather pleasant, has reduced our need to struggle for food and allows most of us to get food relatively easily.
And this brings us to a couple of problems:
- In America we are rarely lacking in food. Without trying particularly hard I can think of 12 restaurants and two grocery stores within a 5 minutes drive of my house. A quick Google search on “fast food restaurants in Austin Texas” yields 536 different restaurants. Yelp has reviews for more than 2500 eateries and 415 grocery stores. That’s a lot of food.
- The huge bulk of all that food is processed and full of high fructose corn syrup, a bunch of sugary chemicals ending in -ose, and a dazzling array of toxic materials used as artificial sweeteners. If you are trying to get healthy you may get advice from your health care provider (not me, mind you, but others) may suggest you eat low-fat alternatives to your favorite foods. Fat is what makes flavor stick to your tongue. When you take out or reduce the fat in a food it gets pretty boring, so manufacturers use high quantities sugars and sugar derivatives hidden by their chemical names to please your taste buds and prompt you to buy the product again.
- Excess sugar in your blood stream is toxic. If you don’t burn it up with activity, you store it as fat. You can blame simple carbohydrates if you want to (white bread, mashed potatoes, white rice, corn products, donuts, etc.), but they convert to sugar very quickly in the blood stream, so it still comes down to excess sugar in the blood.
And so, America is fat. And the predominant reason is excess sugar.
The pundits say, “Just make better choices.” But that’s about as effective as “Just say no.” But that’s a band-aid fix and isn’t particularly effective especially when there’s a reason other than lack of will-power that is pushing those cravings. Ok, so there are a lot of biological reasons someone might crave sugar. But ponder this one. Perhaps the reason we crave sugar in the first place is because of a deficiency in our spirits.
In Chinese Medicine there are five major organ systems in the body: Liver, Heart, Spleen/Stomach (the digestive system), Lung, and Kidney. A quick overview of the digestive system in both Chinese and Western medicine looks like this.
- Your digestive organs prompt a hunger pang. You eat.
- The food you ingest passes to the stomach where it is ground into a liquid that then moves to the small intestine.
- The small intestine soaks up the nutrients out of the liquid and passes on anything that it can’t use to other organs in your body for processing. Your liver takes a look at anything that is soaked up from the small intestine and makes sure it’s safe. If it’s not it is filtered out. If it is it is moved the blood stream for distribution.
- The stuff that isn’t absorbed in the small intestine is passed to the large intestine for further processing and elimination.
Chinese medicine take the process a step further than just the physical body. The energy of the Spleen and Stomach take anything you ingest and process it. This includes the energy of the friends and co-workers you hang out with, the television you watch, the movies you go to, the conversations you have. These too are taken in and processed. The system tries to filter out the crud and only keep the good stuff, but just like in the physical world, toxins can get through to the energetic an emotional system. Things that might seem sweet can turn out to be poison.
So that brings us to crux of the matter. What if the physical sweet cravings are echoes of the emotional and spiritual need for sweetness in our lives? What if we are substituting processed sugars in an attempt to fill the void for the true sweetness of life? Can you find other ways to bring sweetness and joy into your life?
I challenge you today to find ways to make your life sweet and joyful. Don’t depend on others to do it: nurture yourself, take time to give yourself something that makes you joyful, give love to your own soul. Indulge in all of that sweetness you want – it’s calorie free.