16 Dec 2013
“With visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads…”
Does it really always have to be about sugar?
It will never happen, but wouldn’t it be great if the culture accepted healthy things like natural probiotics, avoiding sugar, and enjoying vegetables?
“With visions of probiotic chocolate bars dancing in their heads…”
I know, I know…I’m getting goofy now.
But chocolate makes me happy, and isn’t joy – and maybe family – what the holidays should be all about?
Last year I wrote all about how stress negatively impacts your digestive health. This year I want to be the “glass half full” person and talk about joy, specifically laughter, and how it should be a part of your holiday plans.
What’s the Antidote to Sugar?
It stinks that sugar, such a central (and, let’s admit it, FUN) part of holiday gatherings and celebrations, suppresses the immune system, contributes to weight gain, and causes crashes and then makes you crave more to fix up your mood again. NOT cool, sugar.
Do you have to be stuck munching a carrot stick while everyone else is having fun just so you can still feel good the next day?
I did some research on why scientists think sugar can be rather addictive and why people crave it, because if we can replicate the effect, we ought to be able to oust sugar and still enjoy ourselves, right?
It turns out the antidote is perfect for a big holiday gathering.
What Does Sugar Do?
Sugar’s dirty work is a result of a number of physiological processes, hormones, and other terms I barely understand, namely:
Dopamine :: When humans eat sweets, their dopamine level increases, which signals their brain “Reward! Yay!” When it decreases after the sugar leaves the system, the body wants more = craving.
Endorphins :: The “feel good” chemical that sugar gives to the brain that gives people a mood boost and even pain relief.
Opiates :: Yes, that’s the word for heroin and stuff. Sugar isn’t quite that, but high sugar consumption does mimic the body’s opiate system, another way our brain knows it should “feel good.”
Serotonin :: Yet another “happy” hormone, released into the blood after eating sugar – one reason we like to indulge in sugar at celebratory times and when we need some comfort.
Unfortunately, all these systems telling the brain, “You feel GREAT!” are dragged down by the body’s insulin response to sugar as it tries to bring glucose levels back to normal. The body feels that “crash” of lowering blood glucose after a quick spike, the brain says, “I want more of that other feeling,” and the cycle starts all over again.
Can we Have a GOOD Mood Boost?
There are other ways to increase our levels of endorphins and serotonin that can give our bodies the “feel good” boost without the physiological sugar crash.
Any extreme physical activity, like exercising hard, as well as some calming activities like massage or listening to classical instrumental music for thirty minutes, increase endorphin levels and help people get a boost in mood. This is why people talk of “runner’s high” and how after a while, running can actually make you want to run more.
Some of the endorphin-boosting activities are slightly better suited for large gatherings of people than others (ahem), namely this one: Laughter.
Can “Laugh” Go on Your To Do List?
In studies on laughter, researchers discovered that laughter had many positive effects, including pain relief, stress reduction, improved immune system response, stimulating organs with oxygen, and even making it easier to deal with tough situations (physiologically, not just psychologically).
But only the deep belly laughter, not polite social tittering, does the trick. And guess when good laughs are 30 times more likely to happen? In a social context, a large group of people all enjoying the same funny stuff. (source)
Laughter literally, at the brain level, brings people together:
“Social laughter, Dr. Dunbar suggests, relaxed and contagious, is ‘grooming at a distance,’ an activity that fosters closeness in a group the way one-on-one grooming, patting and delousing promote and maintain bonds between individual primates of all sorts. (source)
So as you’re checking through your holiday lists, put “Laugh Together” next to “Buy Kids’ Gifts” and “Tell Jokes” after “Send Christmas Cards.”
Make it a point to gather together, to have fun and enjoy yourself, to laugh about silly things your kids do and let loose among adults, too.
It feels good.
Everybody’s doing it.
Just Say Yes
Most of us are way too smart to try heroin or opium, and many of us are becoming wise to the national sugar addiction and fighting it when we can. Now we smart people can tap into the good stuff without the repercussions of, you know, drug addiction and obesity.
Get addicted to laughter. Enjoy life so much that your brain craves more of it.
Try having some “visions of dancing sugarplums in your head.” If you can picture those sugarplums doing the Roger Rabbit, or the Lawnmower, or the Moonwalk, maybe you can get a good belly laugh going. And share it with someone else, too.
Be a laughter pusher.
‘Cause everybody needs a little less stress in their lives, especially this time of year.
And now for the “question at the end of the post.” I don’t actually want to hear your stories of too much sugar at the holidays, or how you feel about laughter. (Sorry.) Let’s fill the comments with something WAY more fun – links to stuff that makes you laugh! Keep it very clean, obviously, this is a business, but let’s be social in social media and get some shared belly laughs going. I know exactly the one I want to share, maybe after a day passes or so (be sure to subscribe to comments – there’s an option via Facebook but also regular blog commenting if you keep scrolling down).
Here’s to your health – may the endorphins be with you.
KatieCheck out my latest posts here