Functional Medicine & Wellness

Do You Turn to Comfort Food When Stressed?

(Hint:replace it with new foods and flavors)

Sugar is toxic for your brain. Here’s how to cut back on this culprit.

Like every other part of your body, your brain can be strengthened and even healed to function properly. One of the keys is proper nutrition.

The latest science tells us that sugar is toxic for your brain, and here’s why: Sugar can move us into a fight-or-flight response, releasing chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol. Over time, chronic amounts of these hormones will damage cells. This can create inflammation, which provides a “welcoming” environment for disease to develop.

Excess sugar in our system can create “brain fog” and affect our personality. We exhibit traits we would never list on our resume or dating profile! We can be judgmental, short-tempered, withdrawn, impatient, and snippy. Worse, new studies are linking sugar to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Here’s an easy way to reduce sugar: Simply replace it!

As a brain health coach – essentially, a “personal trainer for the brain” – I read a lot of science, medical, and health journals about how the brain works. Here’s food for thought:

Our brain doesn’t like to give something up. If we want to give something up, we need replacements to fill that void, so our brain will be satisfied.

Let’s look at an example…

My fictitious client Bryan decides to give up ice cream for various health reasons, including weight loss and lactose intolerance. He quits cold turkey, and he hates the whole process!

  • He feels resentful when someone else orders ice cream.
  • He misses the sheer enjoyment of eating ice cream: the taste, texture, and social context.
  • He continually thinks about ice cream, with negative thoughts like: “I can’t eat ice cream anymore, but everyone else can. It’s just not fair.”

Notice that Bryan is focusing on the loss, not the gain. Plus, he’s dwelling on negative thoughts around the thing he cannot have.

No need to quit cold turkey! Instead, replace sugar with something new.

Here are 5 things you can do right now:

  1. Swap a sugar culprit with something refreshing and satisfying.
    Example: Replace soda with carbonated lemon water.
  2. Have a healthy alternative handy. Don’t leave it up to will power.
    Example: Say “no thanks” to the coworker’s donuts and, instead, reach for the mixed nuts and beef jerky in your desk drawer.
  3. Engage your senses when you eat healthy comfort foods.
    Example: Replace brown sugar in your oatmeal with cinnamon and nutmeg. The warm, inviting aromas and flavors are satisfying and comforting. Engaging your senses helps to build a new association and reprogram your brain. You won’t miss the brown sugar!
  4. Take time to build a relationship with your new treat – and create a new habit
    Example: Avoid the snack machine and satisfy your afternoon craving with a cup of hot herbal tea. Take time to enjoy the aroma, the natural sweetness, the warmth and relaxation. Instead of mindlessly munching a candy bar, you’ll create a wonderful new habit.
  5. Give your brain something different. Our brains love novelty!
    Example: Replace candy or chewing gum with cinnamon-dipped toothpicks.


Don’t try to eliminate sugar altogether. Instead, gradually replace it with new foods and flavors.

I believe the key is awareness – this is what makes change possible. You can start on this path RIGHT NOW by paying attention to what you eat and how you feel. Plus, I encourage you to read more about this topic. Be educated. As they say, knowledge is power!

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