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Have you noticed sugar is everywhere?  Take a stroll down any grocer’s aisle and you’ll see it. From the most obvious (cookies) to more discreet places (ketchup). With the food industry more interested in making dishes taste good and not making them healthy, it’s common for sugar to be added.  In fact, restaurants often put sugar on salads of all foods!  The average American consumes over 150 pounds (!) of sugar in a year. So if you feel like you’re stuck on the sugar band wagon and you can’t alight, you’re not alone.

Besides the fact that sugar is more addictive than cocaine, found in a recent study, it may also be your body is trying to tell you something. This post explores why we crave sugar from a traditional Chinese medicine standpoint.

What Cravings Say About You

If you’ve ever been to an acupuncturist or Chinese herbalist, you’ve probably been asked about your appetite and diet and possibly, your cravings.  Cravings are a way for practitioners to find out what is going on in your body.  When we have an imbalance in our bodies, we tend to crave particular foods.  Your type of craving reveals what you’re lacking.  Sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and spicy are the different tastes of the five elements (i.e., fire, earth, metal, water, and wood) in traditional Chinese medicine.

Five Elements and Sugar

Sweet is associated with earth and more specifically, the spleen. According to Chinese medicine, the spleen wants a little sweet. Think: a square of chocolate and that’s it. (Whoever eats just one square of chocolate, really?) Sweet is nourishing, moistening, and above all, calming. Glucose gives us a burst of energy. The spleen, the delicate organ that it is, easily gets flooded when we eat too much sugar. When that happens, it can impair our ability to metabolize nutrients. In traditional Chinese medicine, the spleen is the rock star of cooking down your food to absorb nutrients. So you can see how this is a big deal when it’s not working.

What Craving Sugar Is a Sign of

We crave sugar, because we’re fatigued, overworked, and stressed. The fact that sugar consumption has increased significantly over the past 100 years, in spite of increased convenience, goes to show we’re run down and covering up our fatigue with sugar.

Breathing Exercise for Exploring Your Craving

The next time you’re feeling fatigued and craving something sweet, take it as a sign to rest and remove some items off your to-do list.  When you have the time and space to explore your craving, here’s a simple exercise to try:

1)  Stop what you’re doing.

2)  Feel the bottom of your feet touching the floor.

3)  Check in with your body. Where is the hunger coming from? Be specific. Your body, your mind, or your soul (all three)?

4)  What do you need right now?

5)  Take a deep breath in and notice how this feels.

6)  If the craving is still present, take your time, breathe between bites, and enjoy the sweet.

Your spleen will thank you. When you feel a sugar craving, what do you like to do? Leave your experiences in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

Sources: Sugar consumption in the U.S., USDA source; Is Sugar More Addictive than Cocaine? Here & Now, 7 Jan. 2015.

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