Have you ever felt completely “addicted” to chocolate, or completely powerless to resist cake? What is it about these food that make even the most determined dieter lose willpower?
It turns out, that you have spent an entire lifetime developing unconcious preferrences to foods that give us the most calories for the least ammount of effort. Its not your fault, its just the way our brains work, and sugar in particular is a main feature of the most unhealthy foods that your brain has detected provide this.
Sugar activates reward pathways in your brain, similar to drugs, alcohol and other fun activities like being in love. The main chemical, or neurotransmitter involved in this process is called dopamine. In people that experience dependency on alcohol, nicotine or drugs the dopamine receptors are over stimulated causing a flood of happy feelings and the result can be addiction. Sugar activates similar pathways, and although not as extreme as these other substances, the effects on your mental and physical wellbeing are just as destructive. The unfortunate fact is that the more sugar you have, your tolerance levels increase and the more you are going to need to reach this same happy state – leading to cravings and over consumption.
When dopamine is raised, serotonin, another brain chemical is lowered. Serotonin is responsible for feeling balanced, motivated and generally stable, also involved in higher decision making processes. Elevated levels of dopamine and lowered levels of serotonin are hallmarks of both anxiety and depression. This is how sugar can decrease your happiness, and affect your mental wellbeing.
If you strugle with eating sugary foods, the best ways to reduce the cravings are to slowly reduce the amount of sugar in your diet and build up an intollerance to it. For example if you were to add 3 sugars to your tea or coffee start by lowering it to one and a half over a week or two. Then look at things like your breakfast in particular. If you’re eating a sugary breakfast cereal, swap it for one with whole grains, or bran. The most ideal swap here would be porrige which you can add a teaspoon of honey to. Adding protein to meals is a good way of sending signals to your brain that you are full, and reduces the cravings. Last and most importantly, dont be too hard on yourself, the reasons behind sugar consumption are complex, and are largely beyond your control both by physiological desgin and manipulation of mass produced food by the food industries.