I have been adhering to intermittent fasting for about 6 months now. I began on September 24th of 2018 (last year) and have received numerous insights on how we (as humans) eat, why we eat, and also where the energy garnered from eating is expended.
Throughout this period, significant shifts has been done in my part in order to treat my body better. These shifts include changing my eating behaviour, the things I consume when eating, and how I choose to spend my energy on. In order to do this, I have to be ‘mindful’ of my every thoughts and every doing.
By being mindful, I found that I am more knowledgeable of my food, aside from being knowledgeable of my own self. For instance, carbohydrates seem to be the thing that I have been most fond of ever since I was a child. Today, I gain more insight on how carbohydrates have impacted me, as a person.
There are two types of carbohydrates, simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are the good ol’ rice, the delicious pastries like bagels and scones I used to devour without thinking the consequences it might have on my body in a later time, and even fruits like bananas (which I also love but have found to be as detrimental as its other non-fruit counterparts due to its high fructose content). Simple carbohydrates are easy to be digested by our bodies due to its simple chemical composition as opposed to complex carbohydrates which have a more complex chemical composition. Our body converts carbohydrates to glucose via our liver. This process called ‘Gluconeogenesis’, is a process which converts glucose into glycogen (later to be stored as fat if no energy is exerted). If there are no energy exertions, the fat will remain embedded in our bodies, which causes us to be categorically ‘fat’.
I will now breakdown sugar and all the glorious terms which pertains to its metabolization in our body. Simple carbohydrates, like the name suggests, and as mentioned previously, has a simple chemical composition. Simple carbohydrates are usually comprised of monosaccharides and also disaccharides. Mono = one, saccaride = sugar. Fructose: fruit sugar is a monosaccharide. Which is why bananas can be detrimental (my history with bananas on the other hand, will be divulged in a later time and why it is imperative in the account of my health journey). Blood sugar, also known as glucose, is a type of sugar produced when you digest carbohydrates. On the other hand, there is also galactose, which is sugar derived from digesting lactose (milk sugar). Besides monosaccharides, there are also disaccharides, a carbohydrate with two units of sugar (di = two). Table sugar is a disaccharide since it contains one unit of glucose and one unit of fructose.
Moving on to complex carbohydrates, they are also known as polysaccharides (poly = many) and have more than two units of sugar linked together. However, there are also oligosaccarides (oligo = few) which is a term assigned to carbs with three to ten units of sugar. Your body takes a longer time to digest these types of sugar since there are a lot to digest from. So, when you digest these types of sugar (found in complex-carbs foods), the process will be done more evenly and slowly. This is why people say that when you eat whole grain food (which has many types of sugar) you will feel full for a longer period. Your body is essentially taking its time to process the numerous types of sugar in that food. Also, there are much more nutrients in complex carbs. Rice is an example of complex carbs, however, when processed into white rice, it loses most of its fiber and nutrients and become simple carbs instead. When this happens, rice becomes ‘refined grains’, which sounds healthier than it really is.
Now, why the extremely detailed breakdown of sugar you might ask? Well, dopamine, a neurotransmitter (sometimes endearingly regarded as a ‘happy chemical’) is released in your brain when you ingest sugar. There are other kinds of happy chemicals and they are serotonin, endorphin, and also oxytocin. However, I will focus mainly on dopamine for now. Researches has been done on labrats which found that the happy chemical ‘dopamine’ is released when you ingest sugar. Dopamine is an interesting neurotransmitter as heroine/cocaine addiction and alcoholism has been heavily related to the release of dopamine upon ingestion. Apparently, drugs and alcohol trigger dopamine. Remember the other thing that triggers dopamine? That’s right, it’s sugar. There is a link between sobriety (post-alcoholism) and also a high-intake of sugar. Folks who stopped being alcoholic developed a dependency towards candies and sweets after they quit taking alcohol.
It kind of makes sense, no? The same chemicals (dopamine) that are triggered by drugs or alcohol can be triggered by sugar as well, and when the body is depleted of alcohol, it mobilizes the individual to substitute the ‘high’ but with sugar. The interesting thing about this is that dopamine is released by the brain when one ingests alcohol. High alcohol intake equals high production of dopamine. Over time (due to abuse of alcoholic substance), your brain ‘adjusts’ and releases less dopamine because it’s becoming ‘normal’ to the brain. When it adjusts, less dopamine is produced. In order to get the brain to produce more dopamine, one has to ingest even more alcohol. Interestingly, this is similar to insulin production by the pancreas. When you consume too much sugar, the pancreas produces more insulin to convert the glucose into glycogen. When there are too many sugar in your blood, the overworked pancreas will stop producing insulin since the immune system attacks beta cells that produce insulin. In type-2 diabetes, the body becomes resistant to insulin, and you need even more insulin to bring down blood glucose level. Keywords: resistance, and adjusting. The same way that the body becomes resistant to insuline, is how the brain ‘adjusts’ or figuratively-speaking becomes resistant to alcohol thus producing less dopamine.
In the case of alcoholics, the brain adjusts to alcohol and you no longer feel anything from a meager amount of alcohol. So, you will need even more alcohol to get that ‘high’ from the dopamine. Digressing back to how sugar affects the production of dopamine, this shows that sugar is as detrimental as any other drugs or substances out there.
Dopamine has also been related to Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder (ADHD). There is a research done on people who have ADHD and how they are dependent on sugar. When they are dependent on sugar, they take excessive amounts of sugar and this messes with the dopamine-signalling in their brains. People who have low-motivations, self-doubt, lack of motivation (often associated with depression) may have low amounts of dopamine. So, in order to stimulate dopamine, one might opt for substances (either drugs or alcohol) or even food as ‘comfort’.
Now, how does all of these relate to me? I have had problems with eating all my life. I had a brief period of substance usage but found that it was only a phase. However, my dependency towards food was always present, and not just a ‘phase’. I’ve always found myself lacking in concentration and has always tried many things like numerous kinds of dieting causing weight-fluctuations, procrastination when it comes to finishing assignments back when I was in college, and even writing (I can’t even recall how many times I’ve started, stopped, and started this blog again). I also realized that I was not able to focus on one thing at one particular time. I have failed to do every single one of those things (dieting, doing assignments effectively, writing and even thinking about a thought and sticking to it without veering off into a different thought) into completion. I have always been curious about what it is that was inherently wrong with me. Now, I believe the answer to be the things I allow to enter my body.
Ever since I began fasting intermittently, I have garnered a kind of focus which I cannot describe. It is also a kind of focus I cannot afford to lose. I believe that if I remain mindful not only towards eating, but other parts of my life as well, I will be better, and keep on growing, for years to come.