Sugar Addiction…Oh why do I love you so?
Do you find yourself reaching for chocolate, cake, biscuits when you’re not hungry and don’t even notice when you’ve finished eating them? And still want another?
I just came in and devoured half a packet of chocolate covered rice cakes back to back without really thinking. I was craving something sweet…chocolate…not sure why… I definitely wasn’t hungry…but then I noticed what I’d done and decided to write this to put into my own words the reason why I did it and hopefully encourage you to join me in breaking this unhealthy habit and regaining control.
Why do you love sugar?
Why had I eaten them? I’d had a shite day. I wanted something comforting and uplifting – I found an alternative 80’s playlist on Spotify which helped a bit… but I turned my nose up at the carrot and humous in the fridge – I wanted something sweet…but why? I’ve noticed a few of these occasions recently as the past months have been ‘challenging’…
Well, the reason is; it’s an addiction…simply that …not a lack of willpower but a biochemical reaction – caused by a neurological pathway.
When we eat, the Nucleus Accumbens area in our brain releases surges of dopamine – the reward system’s feel good hormone. Dopamine is also responsible for weight control, energy levels, brain and heart health. However, after a while if we eat sugar regularly, the dopamine receptors located throughout our brain, down regulate ( decrease in number ) so we become desensitised to the sugar and we crave more sugary foods to reach the ‘high’. Alcohol, nicotine and some drugs trigger the same response but to a higher degree. In this way sugar has been compared to these stimulants and narcotics like cocaine – a chemical hijacking of our brains and addictive.
In addition, sugar also increases the release of endogeneous opioids in the brain – leading to a rush of pleasure similar to that to injecting heroin, to a lesser extent, but still that link’s not a nice one!
So when we don’t meet our sugar craving we go into withdrawal, possibly causing depression and anxiety and of course a craving, to free us from those feelings, even temporarily. So we eat it and then we’re back in the vicious cycle…
But there are ways to break this controlling habit…these suggestions won’t solve the problem over night as you have to break habits that have become engrained, possibly over many years, but they will work if you give them a go! You won’t have to give up your treats completely once you become aware of your eating habits and regain control of your dopamine levels.
- Notice the craving; become more mindful of when you reach for that ‘treat’….what was the trigger? What just happened? What were you just feeling? You may find that by writing it down it becomes more real and when the craving happens again you will notice it more quickly and be able to make a decision as to whether you really want to go down that route again.
- If you do feel like you want to indulge.…pause for 5 minutes – imagine you’re eating the treat…really imagine how it smells, tastes and how you feel on ‘eating’ it and then see if the craving’s still there…by visualising the action we can trick our brains into thinking it really happened…I think that’s a pretty cool trick 🙂
- Eat smaller more frequent meals or have small healthy snacks in between meals to help keep the brain feel rewarded and not wanting additional unhealthy boosts
- Eating a variety of foods keeps the dopamine levels high – if you eat the same meal repeatedly the receptors switch off, they become bored, as they’ve evolved to want you to desire different foods for a balanced diet…clever little things aren’t they?
- Exercise – always a mood booster :). Make sure you take regular exercise – even a 10 minute daily walk to get your body self-regulating – a way to help you feel happy, naturally!
- Eating certain foods can also keep healthy levels of dopamine and the receptors happy so you don’t need boosters . You can chomp away on the foods below and know you’re keeping that hormone under control which in turn will keep you happy
- green tea
- blue berries
If you want to know a bit more, this is a great Ted Talk that animates the forms and effects of sugar on the brain:
And here’s a rather apt tune that came up on the ‘80’s alternative gems’ spotify playlist – Enjoy!
Echo And The Bunnymen – ‘Lips Like Sugar’
What do you find so hard about controlling your sugar cravings? Please do share!
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