“Sugar is like cocaine to the brain…”
“Sugar lights up the same part of the brain that cocaine does in brain scan studies…”
“Sugar acts like a drug in the brain and is addictive…”
The ole’ interweb is awash with claims that sugar is addictive and acts like a drug in our brain. Argh! It sounds positively shocking! Lighting up the same reward pathways that Class A drugs like cocaine also activate?!
So could you really be addicted to sugar?
Turns out the evidence is far less convincing than some people suggest.
For starters, our brains are wired for survival. Here are a couple of things they do to ensure you survive, and indeed, that the human race survives.
Dopamine is released by your brain when you eat sugar – it’s the feel-good hormone. And this brain-reward system helps to ensure our survival.
But guess what?
Dopamine is also released by the brain when we procreate (ahem, you know, get jiggy with it under the sheets). Yes your brain likes you to “procreate” as well as eat.
Dopamine is released by our brain when we hug our children. Yep, our brain likes us to hug, cuddle and nurture our children. Which kinda makes sense, because that’s ensuring the survival of our species, right?
So yeah, sugar lights up the same area of our brain as cocaine, but so too does having sex. Does that automatically make us sex addicts?
Hunger actually increases the reward value of food by triggering even more dopamine-activity. So if you’re hungry you’ll be extra motivated to get off the couch and scour the kitchen pantry for something to cook or eat. Which is a handy habit to have – it’ll prevent starvation, after all.
On that note. The interesting thing is, your brain also encourages you to seek out high energy foods and overeat when you get over-hungry. Because your brain doesn’t like you to starve. (See point #1 above, we’re wired for survival).
This is why a lot of dieters end up binge eating when they diet and restrict their energy intake. Makes sense. Again your brain is trying to ensure your survival.
If I had a dollar for every client I met who wasn’t taking good care of herself, I would be Oprah Winfrey-style rich.
Does that include you? Do you take good care of you? Or are you just busy taking care of everyone else in your family and life?
So many women deprive themselves of pleasurable activities that they enjoy – whether that’s catching up with your girlfriends, reading the books you love, going out to the movies, having a relaxing massage, going for a peaceful walk or hiking, or whatever else.
In the book Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, they talk about how living this type of life basically deprives you of the benefits of dopamine. When many of your needs are not being met, when you don’t have great self-care, you end up with food becoming even more enticing as it’s the only dopamine-hit you have in your daily life.
The problem then, is not your sugar intake, but the fact that you’re not taking care of yourself, not doing things that you really enjoy often enough. And instead are leaning on food to be your buzz.
Now this is the icing on your very-much-NOT-addictive cake!
Several studies have shown that when binge eaters eat their “forbidden foods” as part of their treatment process, their binge eating decreased significantly.
Before treatment, these people would binge on their so-called “addictive foods” while feeling totally out of control. After treatment with their “forbidden foods” they binge ate less of them.
If that was truly food addiction, then giving them more access to their so-called “addictive foods” should have made them binge more, not less (as was the case). This result goes completely against the concept of food addiction.
These studies prove again (and again), that it is restriction that causes cravings and contributes to binge eating.
Instead of trying to avoid certain foods, and ending up cravings and overeating them. The best non-diet solution is to make peace with all foods, one by one if necessary. So they have no great hold on you.
Here are 5 simple steps to make peace with food.
Using those 5 steps, you can become habituated to all of the foods you previously restricted and craved. It’s important though, to keep the process simple. Pick one food, one variety, one brand and stick with it. So if your forbidden food was icecream, then pick one flavour only, one specific brand, and get yourself comfortable with being around that one type of icecream – don’t try a different flavour every day as you’ll never become habituated to it.