The Role of Glucose in Decision Making

February 21, 2013

When we are helping our clients identify craving patterns (the thoughts, emotions and physical pull back toward a substance or behavior) and the decisions they make in response to them (i.e., do I respond to the craving with use, or do I use other skills to distract and diminish my cravings), we almost always ask about eating habits.  If someone is craving a drink after work, we ask “when was the last time you ate something.”  If someone is ruminating about their last episode of cocaine use, we ask “what have you eaten today”. Why?  Studies have shown that people who have just eaten something have higher levels of self-control than those who haven’t recently eaten. 

Studies have found that glucose level plays a significant role in decision-making and self-control, as it affects energy available to the entire system. Researchers such as Roy Baumeister have found that people who have not eaten recently have poorer performance on decision-making tasks that test self-control than those who ingested calories. Specifically he notes that “glucose is the chemical in the bloodstream that carries energy to the brain, muscles and other organs and systems. In simple terms, glucose is fuel for the brain. Acts of self-control reduce blood glucose levels. Low levels of glucose predict poor performance on self-control tasks and tests. Replenishing glucose, even just with a glass of lemonade, improves self-control performance.”

Glucose is brain fuel and we need it to make well thought out decisions.  If you are someone struggling with craving states, and you haven’t eaten in the last 3 hour window, try a little snack before you decide to ‘temporarily suspend” your substance goals (“I’ll just have a couple quick drinks with the guys this one time”). A little brain fuel might help you stick with your original plan.

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