a plate with a piece of the Italian dessert tiramisu

Is there room for “joy foods?” (Part 1)

Back in the day, before I discovered and healed my sugar dependency, my ultimate, favorite indulgence, or “joy food,” was tiramisu. Tiramisu is an Italian confection made from ladyfingers soaked in coffee and sometimes rum, and then layers of mascarpone and cocoa, creating a textural and taste symphony that is creamy and tangy-sweet with a hint of bitterness from the coffee.

Of life’s many great pleasures for me, tiramisu must surely be among them.

But it certainly doesn’t pull me like it used to, even after writing that description ;).

That pull, that feeling of anticipated joy from joy foods is what I am writing about today, and exploring whether there is room for them in a sugar-minimal lifestyle.

The short answer is yes!

The more nuanced answer is maybe, it depends.

I’ll tell you now that tiramisu and other sweet treats just don’t have the same effect on me – my body responds differently to the thought or sight of them. Whereas I used to get all excited, maybe even salivate in anticipation of having it, now I just see it as a collection of super-refined ingredients with little-to-no nutritional value.  Would I have some now? Maybe. It depends on what else is going on, or the context: I don’t think I would seek it out, but if it were offered at the end of a delicious Italian meal, I certainly would be curious if I would enjoy it. And I probably would!

Context is important. In the beginning of the journey to heal my dependency on sugar, if I had a sweet treat – just to see what happens – it would often throw me into weeks of recurring cravings. I believe that is because two of the 7 Factors of Sugar Dependency were triggered: the brain’s pleasure response and feeding the bad bacteria in my gut. Both of those have sufficiently healed so that the thought or sight of a treat just doesn’t light up my brain and motivate me (dopamine at work) the way it used to. That’s why I consider this work healing from sugar dependency and not just controlling it.

Control, in this sense, means wanting it but using will power to not have it. That’s a huge waste of brain energy, and, will power is a limited resource; just try resisting a treat or a glass of wine at the end of a stressful day!

Some people teach weight loss in a way that includes occasional joy foods, and I understand that – you don’t want people to feel deprived and then boomerang with a binge. But as long as there is an underlying sugar dependency, the joy foods just keep the brain trained to want it and the gut bacteria feeding on it.

That said, once the dependency is healed (and this will take differing amounts of time for different people), it may be possible to have the occasional joy food, enjoy it, and then end of story.

Most people I work with who are high on the dependency/addiction scale want to get to a place where they can manage the occasional treat – why totally eliminate one of life’s great pleasures? They don’t want to completely cut themselves off from this source of joy.

What I can tell you though is that the more you heal (for me it has been a gradual and more refined healing over years) what brings you joy will change.

The joy I get from sweet treats now is the joy of freedom from even wanting them. Instead of celebrating the short-term pleasure of the treat, I celebrate and am grateful that they don’t pull me, call me, negotiate with me. Even tiramisu.

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