Break Free From the Office Sugar Stash With Your Curiosity
What’s So Bad About Sugar?
I’m not about to enter into the landmine that is the debate over how toxic or not sugar is for us. According to the World Health Organisation (the leading authority on health and wellbeing), we should be aiming to consume less than 10% of our daily energy intake from additional simple sugar sources (i.e., sugar added to our food products) with further health benefits when reducing that to 5%. For an average sized adult, that looks like 50 to 25 grams respectively of added sugars a day (they discount sugar found in fruit/veggies and milk).
Whilst I will be the last person to demonise enjoying chocolate, and the first person to yell ‘EVERYTHING IN MODERATION!’ at you at any given opportunity, the daily 11am and 3pm cravings to reach for the sweet relief of the office chocolate stash or lolly jar can contribute to overstepping the WHO guidelines on a frequent basis. That can set us up for a host of unwanted psychological and physiological outcomes in the long run.
The Struggle is Real
If you do want to reduce your sugar intake, but find it difficult, you’re certainly not alone. In fact Aussies consume on average 60 grams of added sugar a day. It’s a common struggle for a reason; sugar sets off the dopamine reward pathways in our brain, which reinforces the behaviour of consuming them purple snakes (not the yellow ones though).
Rather than just Trying Not To, but harder, leading addictions psychiatrist and author Judson Brewer proposes using mindful curiosity to break out of the reflexive stress-junk food-satiation habit that we’ve gotten ourselves into.
Working with cigarette addicted participants, Brewer and his team proposed that we are more likely to reach for junk food when we’re stressed. Being distracted by the feelings of stress, we have less mental headspace to think through our choices, which means we fall into our dopamine-reinforced habits.
In the office, that could mean stress from approaching deadlines, meeting sales targets, or a meeting coming up can actually lead us to respond by consuming sugar.
What the team found was that taking a moment to mindfully question our actions reduced the amount of smoking the participants did. Spending a few moments questioning their feelings and actions of the stress response allowed for the space to think through their actions, and actually led to less smoking.
One chronic smoker who spent an extra moment of inquisition before smoking reflected, “smells like stinky cheese, and tastes like chemicals. Yuck!”.
Translating his research to snacking, Brewer suggests that using the same mindful curiosity allows us to form a more considered outlook on our choices. Over time, choosing junk food simply becomes a less appealing option. In his hugely popular TED talk, Brewer explains, “this is what mindfulness is really about. Seeing really clearly what we get when we get caught up in our behaviours; becoming really disenchanted on a visceral level; and from this disenchantment stance, naturally letting go… Over time we see the results of our habits, we let us go of our old habits, and form new ones.”
Curiosity Killed the Habit
Our curiosity into probing our cravings lets us see that the root cause is often a combination of uncomfortable sensations- things like tightness, tension, and restlessness. When we untangle the overwhelming feeling of a craving into its true origins, we can then recognise that these sensations pass- they are the natural ebbs and flows of human experience, and they pass, without needing to sooth ourselves with unhealthy behaviours like eating high levels of sugar or smoking.
The next time it hits 3pm and you feel that itchiness in your fingers to grab a handful of minties, spend a couple of moments just probing your thoughts and feelings. You don’t have to force yourself to do or not do anything. You might find that over time the craving-sugar habit you’ve developed weakens, allowing you the space to make the choices that you want to, and leading to a healthier life overall.