At the therapist the other day for my arm, I mentioned “Beth’s Story” (see November 6th post below) to Frank Krasowski, the owner of The Hills Physical Therapy in Bantam, CT. He had his own ideas about what it takes to diet, exercise, and lose weight.

“Some people are disciplined, and others aren’t. Food gives some people so much pleasure that they can’t give it up…unless there is another pleasure to compensate for that loss.”

For Frank, riding his bike on hilly, scenic roads does the trick. The sweating, the big gears, and the views he enjoys outdoors trigger endorphins into his system that easily make up for his more limited diet. “I love biking. It changes my mind set, so that food becomes fuel, rather than a source of pleasure and satisfaction. This doesn’t happen for me with other kinds of exercise.”

Frank Krasowski resting from a ride—2007

Frank Krasowski resting from a ride—2007

He admitted that his ability to be disciplined with food goes in spurts. And he really admires people who can stick to their own rules with consistency. He also volunteered that he rides in the winter as long as there isn’t much snow on the ground. He has all the necessary clothing layers, masks and gloves to build up the warmth needed to ride comfortably in freezing temperatures. Sounds pretty disciplined to me…

After hearing Frank’s words, I did a few searches on the net about sugar rushes and endorphin highs.

SUGAR RUSHES

Time and again you’ve experienced the intense effects that food can have on your moods. Cakes, cookies, and fudge are known as pleasure foods not only because they delight your taste buds but because they can make you feel calm and happy – at least temporarily. This sugar induced sense of euphoria comes from several chemical mechanisms in your brain. First of all, the sheer pleasure of tasting a chocolate treat or powdery donut stimulates your brain’s pleasure pathways and the release of dopamine and endorphins, the chemicals that makes you feel exhilarated. You also get a quick surge of energy as the sugar hits your bloodstream. Unfortunately, that energized feeling lasts only as long as the sugar rush. Once your blood-sugar levels drop (about an hour or two later), you’re left feeling drained and out of sorts. You become an addict looking for another hit.

Clearly, then, food can be as powerful as the most addictive drug. If you’re experiencing carbohydrate cravings as a result of taking antidepressants, you’re probably well aware of the addictive nature of certain foods. Addictive foods are almost always processed foods. (I have never known anyone addicted to lima beans.) And you probably know that feeding your cravings only makes you crave the food even more. In fact, some studies suggest that food cravings may be triggered by low levels of neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins), a phenomenon that may also occur in people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs.

NOW SOME INFO ABOUT ENDORPHINS

Most people associate endorphins with athletes and thrill seekers who experience what is known as a “runner’s high” and identify themselves as “adrenaline junkies.” But what exactly are endorphins, and what is their role within the human body?The discovery of an endogenous morphine-like substance appropriately named “endorphin” for “morphine within” was revealed when scientists found that the human brain naturally contained opiate binding sites. When activated, these receptors block the signal of pain to the nervous system, providing the body with a powerful pain reliever. These same chemical painkillers, known as “endorphins” and “enkephalins,” also cause a euphoric effect to occur.

The ‘Runner’s High’

Increases of blood endorphin levels are associated with exercise, sexual activity and stress, as well as emotional responses such as laughter and nervousness. In addition, some experts in professions such as acupuncture and message therapy claim that endorphins are released during treatment, providing additional benefits.

Endorphins are best known for the euphoric feeling they arouse in athletes and thrill seekers. Those of us who have experienced a “queasy” or nervous feeling in our stomach prior to a race, or what can be described as an “adrenaline rush” during strenuous exercise, have felt the effect of endorphins within the body; a hormonal response has been triggered, resulting in a powerful analgesic that allows us to ride the “high.” Or pursue our physical limits.

The effect of endorphins can be viewed as a protective mechanism that allows our bodies to endure or prepare for a traumatic event. It is often at the root of a person’s ability to find temporary loss of pain when severe injury occurs and/or an athlete’s ability to push his/her body beyond the normal physical limitations.

Endorphin release associated with a person’s emotions has been extensively proven. Their relationship with the brain’s pleasure center can lessen anxiety and depression, elevate self-esteem, and provide a positive mood during exercise. Studies show that pain perception is reduced after laughter and that endorphins flood our bloodstream during stressful as well as enjoyable times.

So, if you are an athlete or just a person who sometimes steps over the edge, give thanks to your friendly endorphins, which will not only reduce the pain but will also provide you with a euphoric high. But remember that everything that becomes pleasurable may tempt you to do it again. So, continue to enjoy your endorphins, but beware that an endorphin addiction can sometimes lead to other more daring escapades.