I was a big gum chewer at one time. I started chewing in college after I decided to quit smoking and I never stopped. I rationalized it…I wasn’t smoking, wasn’t eating sugar, wasn’t damaging my teeth (or so I believed, my dentist would have disagreed with me on this one) and I wasn’t taking in calories. When I was bored, I chewed gum. I also chewed when I was upset or anxious, and especially when I had the urge to eat something sweet. And when I was driving in traffic and worrying about being late, I’d use the chewing gum to distract myself. I went through A LOT of gum. It wasn’t until I got real with my desire to lose my last 10 pounds that I gave up my gum habit once and for all. Because I learned that when I was popping gum into my mouth I was simply avoiding the uncomfortable feelings associated with my stressful thoughts.
And, I found out that there is one BIG reason to reduce or quit chewing gum – artificial sweeteners
I’d known about the potential dangers of artificial sweeteners for years (remember Tab?) but I rationalized I was having just a small amount. But, sweeteners, even artificial sweeteners, cause a spike insulin which can cause weight gain by stimulating fat storage. They make you feel hungrier and increase your sweets/carbs cravings. Additionally, sweeteners act on the reward centers in the brain like a drug releasing opioids and dopamine. When we consume sweets, we just keep wanting more and more. For more on this, visit my blog post: Why am I so hungry Part 2. And, artificial sweetener use has been linked to diabetes, birth defects and cancers. So, if you are chewing gum or using mints to deal with your stress and your cravings to help you feel better and lose weight…probably not a good long term strategy.
I decided to stop all sweeteners and it was magic!
When I finally decided once and for all to completely stop consuming ALL sweeteners (I do have a treat now and again), my cravings magically disappeared. Well…not magically…I had three days of sugar withdrawal which were not fun and I was forced to sit with my cravings and deal with my brain – which was freaking out and trying to convince me to eat sweets. This was mighty UNCOMFORTABLE but manageable. While I was chewing gum, I was putting off the inevitable, dealing with my feelings and my sweets addiction.
You can instead learn to manage stressful thoughts
What I learned from my coaches and my studies of cognitive behavior is that our thoughts drive our feelings so, when we have a sudden desire, which is a feeling, for a sweet, be it gum or cookies, there is always a thought driving that feeling. Can you figure out what the thought is? If you can, explore it. Is it a true? Can you exchange it for a less stressful thought?
And, it’s ok to indulge once in a while
Will I chew gum again? Probably, but when I do, it will be a choice. I won’t be using it to quash whatever stressful feelings are happening in my brain or put off a carb indulgence. It’s always possible, once in a while, to indulge in sweet foods and treats without feeling out of control. Just notice WHY you are popping that piece of gum or mint into your mouth. Don’t let it be a mindless affair. If you are having a stressful thought or an emotion that you don’t want to deal with, figure out what it is (it really helps to write things down) and start working on your thoughts. You’ve got this!