Dallas Depression Therapist gives 3 Tips to Control your Sweet Tooth and Your Depression

Dallas Counselor Jada Jackson, MS, LMHC ask do you have a sweet tooth? When the dessert cart comes around, do you get excited and even feel a little giddy inside? Do you prefer chocolate and sweets to other foods when given the option? If you can relate to any of the previous statements, rest assured that you are among millions of other people.

Why is it that desserts are so irresistibly delicious? What makes them more desired than vegetables and fruits? If given the choice of chocolate cake or broccoli, most of us would choose the former without even thinking about it. But what causes our attraction to sweets, and what can we do to keep a love of sugar, or growing addiction, in check? Let’s get down to the science of a situation most of society can easily identify with.

Good Housekeeping’s “Best-Loved Desserts” piece addresses this interesting aspect of nutrition and consumption most of us probably overlook, or have never even thought about. Perhaps desserts are so appealing to us because they remind us of memories and people we love. Taking a bite of apple pie and remembering the Thanksgiving when you helped your grandmother bake, can cause you to feel the comfort of family and home. The connection we have to sweets could be explained by the following idea: we associate yummy desserts with the love and positive emotions we felt in a cherished time when we ate them. Due to classical conditioning, those feelings stick with us whenever we come across the delightful treats.

Scientists have pondered this question for a long time, and I can’t help but wonder why exactly it is that we crave sugary, fat-coated foods, instead of things like apples and oranges. Psychologist Dr. Leigh Gibson explains: “From an evolutionary point of view, junk food cravings are linked to prehistoric times when the brain’s opioids and dopamine reacted to the benefit of high-calorie food as a survival mechanism. We are programmed to enjoy eating fatty and sugary substances, and our brains tell us to seek them out.” So, despite these foods containing basically no nutritional value, our brains are wired to desire them up to an un-ignorable degree.

Mood also plays a role in the desire for sweets. As a response to stress, the body releases the hormone cortisol. Its function is to increase sugar levels in the blood—to be used as energy and aid in metabolism. It also serves to increase hunger. That is why research shows that when we are stressed, we are highly attracted to foods with a lot of energy, including chocolates and cakes.

Let’s not forget the role of operant conditioning, the reward/punishment system, in our relationship with desserts. Starting from an early age, we learn to seek out situations in which rewards are the end result. If an outcome is desirable, we will continue to do actions that result in receiving that reward. Parents give their kids candy when they behave well, and thus a strong bond is formed.

So how can we make sure sweets make up only a small part of our diet? Here are some helpful suggestions!

  • Try not to use sweets as a reward for children

Instead, allowing dessert a couple times a week after eating a healthy dinner will set the standard that it is okay to have sweets, just not all the time. Teens are especially prone to turning to sweets when they are stressed or struggling. 

  • When you are stressed, turn to protein-rich food— like peanut butter
  • Try to limit the purchasing of these items; if you don’t buy it, you won’t have it!

Of course indulging sometimes is not a bad thing. It is good to reward ourselves now and then. In addition, not all cravings should be ignored. Our bodies do need sugars and fats; a craving tells us when we need those substances. Just be mindful of your consumption and don’t let a relationship with sweets get out of control!

Note: You can freely redistribute this resource, electronically or in print, as long as you leave the author’s contact information intact.

AUTHOR: Jada Jackson, MS, LMHC – Dallas Fort Worth Arlington Texas Communicator, Coach & Licensed Mental Health Counselor working with couples, teens, young adults and women empowerment issues!  Jada Jackson can be reached at (469) 757-5215 for a Complimentary 15 Minute Call. If you’re in Dallas anxiety counseling might be a good next step for you to try to remove stress in your life! If your teens are struggling with self-image or have an unhealthy relationship with food check us out for the best teen counseling Dallas has to offer!

Author: Emily Simpson (Intern: University of Central Florida)