by Kris Parfitt
– The Capitol Hill Times –
Nothing says it’s the holiday season like the parade of pies, cookies, cakes and tortes that offer themselves up with irrelevant decadence between Thanksgiving and New Years. The season ’tis upon us and I’m not talking holiday, I’m talking sugar.
This time of year we have less access to the sweet fruits we have been enjoying all summer – strawberries, peaches, nectarines and the plethora of local berries that provided the sweetness fix with a healthier boost to our bodies and waistlines. Cold weather, rainy skies, the smoky wafts of fireplaces and the splash of color on the ground while the trees slowly wave bare branches triggers the want for warmth and comfort. Winter is upon us and our cravings for sweet nourishment haunt us like a bad ghost from holiday’s past.
Who hasn’t rolled in pain from that third helping of Aunt Doris’ yummy Thanksgiving dinner? What about the bloat from Uncle Jon’s pumpkin pie and the lingering food hangover from Cousin Phyllis’ rum cakes?
We’ve all experienced the divine instant gratification from devouring sweet treats during the holiday season, but is it really worth it in the long run? Or even in the short term? Maybe in the moment it hits your taste buds, but after that there’s nothing you can do about the post-swallow-sugar buzzing-tummy aching-headache inducing-guilt ridden-hypoglycemic crash most of us experience after the short-term sugar fix. There’s nothing you can do but wait it out – there isn’t enough protein, water or alcohol that will subside the rush. Like heroin, it’s quite a ride, but it’s not as enjoyable.
We associate the sugar season with community, friends, family, love, celebrations, laughter, hugs, presents, decorations, shopping, parties and huge credit card bills. Along with that association is the emotional experience during the holidays, happiness, sadness, guilt, anxiety, depression, energy rollercoasters, exhaustion and frustration.
While we need sugar for basic brain and cell function, there is a limit to the amount our bodies can use before it turns into a toxin. The side effects of too much sugar commonly show up as anxiety, depression, sadness, guilt, manic energy, mood swings, weight gain, headaches, stomachaches and queasiness. These symptoms depend greatly on one’s metabolism and the kind of sugar ingested.
A small amount of caloric sweeteners derived from natural sources (such as honey, date or maple sugar, agave syrup or fruit sugars for example) don’t commonly result in the ailments listed above. However, highly refined sugars (white table sugar and high glucose corn sugars) and artificial sweeteners (aspertame, Splenda, Sweet’N Low, neotame, etc.) can, in even in low doses, cause a plethora of unfavorable symptoms that don’t support a fun celebratory holiday season. Instead, their sideeffects take us out of the game and away from the excitement.
So what can we do? Consider that our cravings for comforting sweets don’t actually mean that we are only jonesing for a sugar fix. Perhaps our sweetness cravings aren’t for food at all, maybe they stem from the desire for nourishment of the personhood and the soul?
Sometimes when we are craving sweets it’s because we are thirsty, or we’ve eaten an abundance of salty foods, red meat or cheese. Maybe we didn’t get a good night’s sleep or we haven’t exercised in a while. All of these things increase our desire for sweet nourishment.
There are many ways to look at nourishment, because it doesn’t always relate to food nutrition. Sometimes when we are craving that slice of Aunt Joan’s fruitcake with confectioner’s sugar icing, what we really want is to talk with her and share stories. Maybe we want to go outside for a walk and hold hands with someone we love. Maybe it’s decorating the house for the holiday season and having friends over for a home-cooked meal that will give us that boost of sweetness rather than that fourth cup of eggnog and your laptop.
The holidays can be sweet with nourishment outside the realm of food and they can be highlighted with really yummy holiday treats. Remember to balance your food nourishment with your personal nourishment and cultivate relationships with your community, friends, family, career, physical activity, spiritual practices or creative time. Remember to hydrate, sleep and practice mindfulness and personal respect.
There are also an abundance of recipes that offer refined or artificial sweetener alternatives that provide that sweetness fix but don’t trigger the sugar blues. Below are three easy sweet treats that satiate the sweet tooth, sprinkle smiles throughout the holidays and decrease the possibility of a roller-coaster emotional ride.