Pinterest + Sugar Addiction = Trouble

Digital initiatives manager Jamie Martin wonders if Pinterest is feeding her sugar addiction.

I’m an avid Pinterest user, as an individual and on behalf of Experience Life. I love the beautiful photos that people share, and the tips, tricks and recipes that are behind them. I have boards ranging from wedding shower ideas (my only sister is getting married this summer) to home organization (I have big projects for my husband!) to photography (I can’t take enough cute shots of my daughter). I’ve created a series of virtual vision boards for my life.

But I’ve noticed something troubling over the past few weeks that has left me wondering if Pinterest is sabotaging my healthy eating efforts.

Let me explain …

I have a sweet tooth — and most likely, a sugar addiction. I grew up eating sweets: Little Debbie snack cakes, cookies, lollipops, pies, you name it. Desserts heavily outweighed salads and veggie-based side dishes at family gatherings (and, to be honest, still do); in high school, I ate full-size Mr. Goodbars two to three times a week.

I have cut back on my excessive consumption of sweets over the last seven years, thanks no doubt to learning everything I have about healthy eating here at Experience Life. I’ve also learned to pay attention to my cravings: Am I really hungry, or is something else triggering my desire to eat?

Lately, it’s been the latter and, call me crazy, but I think Pinterest and all those dessert photos that people keep pinning and repinning — myself included — are to blame. You see, when I see these pictures, I actually start to feel hungry, and I’m not satisfied until I finally cave and eat something, anything. And we all know that the more sugar we eat, the more sugar we want all the time. That was me a few weeks ago: always wondering where my next sugar “fix” was coming from.

Some of my first pins included the mocha cake with mocha icing and cherry chocolate kiss cookies. No wonder I craved sweets.

The more I think about this, the more I am sure that it has something to do with the cephalic phase insulin response, a physiological process that Michael R. Eades, MD, did an amazing job of explaining in a 2007 article about how food advertisements trigger kids’ appetites:

If you walk by a bakery and smell the fresh bread baking, or if you open a box of warm donuts, or if someone sets a plate of cake and ice cream before you (or if you write about these things – it’s happening to me right now), your brain says, Uh oh, sugars coming, better get ready. The brain sends a quick message to the pancreas to start releasing insulin [the cephalic phase insulin response]. Then when the sugar from the fresh baked bread, the warm donuts, or the cake and ice cream hits your bloodstream, insulin is already there waiting for it so that your blood sugar doesn’t go as high as it otherwise would. Once the blood sugar level does start going up (because the cephalic phase doesn’t release enough insulin to handle the whole load of sugar), it sends the signal to the pancreas for more insulin, which is the second phase of insulin secretion.

It’s easy to see what happens if you walk by the bakery and don’t eat the bread, or if you don’t eat the warm donuts or cake and ice cream. Suddenly you’ve got a little squirt of insulin on board without the expected blood sugar increase. What does this excess insulin do? It acts on the blood sugar that’s already there, which may be at a normal level. When it does, the insulin quickly reduces the blood sugar. And, as I’ve written about before, a falling blood sugar makes you hungry almost faster than anything else. That’s why you get hungry when you smell the fresh bread or see and smell the warm donuts or have someone give you a plate of cake and ice cream (or write about it). You get hungry even if you weren’t hungry to begin with because your cephalic phase of insulin release drops your blood sugar. (You can even just sit and think about food and have the same thing happen.)

Interesting stuff. So when I’m scrolling down my Pinterest timeline and viewing desserts and entrees that appeal to me, my body is likely releasing insulin to handle the anticipated sugars from the virtual goodies. The food, naturally, doesn’t arrive, so my blood sugar drops and I’m hungry. And thus, a mad woman on a desperate hunt for food, sweet or otherwise.

This is, of course, only a theory. But knowing what I know about the cephalic insulin response (find more on that in “Poor Substitutes“) and the effects of sugar (especially in terms of inflammation — see “Sugar Shock“), I’m not willing to take any chances. I’ve unfollowed peoples’ boards that are full of sugar-laden treats, and stopped repinning less-than-healthy fare. Most important, though, I’m no longer keeping sweets at the ready (i.e. the bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips that I used to eat by the handful — no joke).

I’m not saying I’m sugar-free, by any means. Rather, I’m consuming it in moderation, and enjoying it a heck of a lot more.

Leave a Comment

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Newsletter Signup
Weekly Newsletter
Special Promotions