Over half of Americans live with a chronic illness, primarily due to the overconsumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates. In our society, the overabundance of delicacies is hard to resist. It is unhealthy to overeat, and when that becomes a habit, eventually we become addicted to food and can’t stop eating.
Sweets and refined carbohydrates are addictive and harmful to the human body.
One reason it is difficult for many to stick to decisions about food is that their bodies betray their mental commitment. At first, it seems fun to eat whatever we desire. However, that momentary pleasure is fleeting. Unfortunately, sweets and refined carbohydrates are addictive and harmful to the human body.
Addiction is a compulsive repetition of an activity despite life-damaging consequences. Regrettably, people become addicted to sugar and carbs to the point that it causes excessive weight or health issues. Take the time now to watch this five-minute Ted-Ed video, “How Does Sugar Affect the Brain?” by the neuroscientist Nicole Avena, Ph.D.: https://www.sciencealert.com/watch-this-is-how-sugar-affects-your-brain.1 This video explains how we get hooked on foods with a high sugar content.
When a food addict sees sugary foods, dopamine releases and causes the person’s focus to narrow.
As you learned from the video, sugar causes the release of dopamine in the brain, which is part of our bodies’ feel-good reward system. Dopamine, a feel-good neurohormone, releases when we eat foods high in sugar, take opiate drugs, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, cuddle with our kids, pet a dog, or enjoy sex. A dopamine rush can rewire the brain to desire more of whatever causes its release. Therefore, when a food addict sees sugary foods, dopamine releases and causes the person’s focus to narrow. 2 She can think only about eating that food item to experience the euphoria it brings.
Getting off sugar is more complex than it may seem. It is no longer about willpower and self-discipline but a biochemical addiction.
We enjoy the feeling of dopamine, so we keep eating carbs. Refined carbohydrates include rice, wheat, instant mashed potatoes, instant oatmeal, cereals, potato chips, crackers, cake, cookies, etc. Sugary foods include a food item with greater than ten grams of sugar per serving. Check the food packages you purchase for its sugar level. At some point, an overconsumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates rewires the brain’s neural pathways and causes a person to become addicted. The brain’s hijacking triggers binge eating despite its consequences of weight gain and health problems. Therefore, getting off sugar is more complex than it may seem. It is no longer about willpower and self-discipline but a biochemical addiction.
In fact, their brain’s circuitry goes haywire when they come into contact with these addictive foods, and their mind assigns supreme value to that food. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain found that addicts’ neural circuitry kicks into high gear when the brain lusts for the product of addiction.2 Therefore, from a physical perspective, we can become addicted to sugar, wheat, and refined carbohydrates.
Two hallmarks of addiction include persistent desire and repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop.
Two hallmarks of addiction include persistent desire and repeated unsuccessful attempts to stop. Being addicted to food is like having an alien inside of you who takes control of your body and eats a bunch of unhealthy food. You can’t stop it. Sugar and wheat hijack your body. You can’t halt the craving or binges no matter what you try. Your willpower is never enough. Understanding that food addiction is not a lack of self-control, but a rewiring of the brain, helps you to be more compassionate with yourself.
If you have not considered the possibility of having a food addiction, do not feel shame over the terminology. Your body has fallen prey to the accumulative effects of sugar and wheat that are ingrained in so many of our culture’s food habits. The surgeon general’s 2016 report indicated that addiction is a chronic brain disease, not a moral failing.
It is a slippery slope once you take your first bite of that addictive food. Down the slope you fall as you consume the whole package—which you did not intend to do.
We live in a culture of entitlement—where we feel we deserve to satisfy ourselves to our heart’s content. Countless varieties of delicious, unhealthy foods are available to us at a whim. Even the commercials on TV entice us to indulge. It is amazing that everyone in our culture has not fallen into the food addiction trap. Entitlement leads to indulging, which leads to addiction. It is a slippery slope once you take your first bite of that addictive food. Down the slope you fall as you consume the whole package—which you did not intend to do. If you are addicted, you can’t rely on moderation. You need to understand what is causing you to consume foods in a manner you do not want.
Scientists found that the part of the brain that restrains behavior (self-control) was abnormally quiet in rats with an addiction. Unfortunately, when we struggle with the desire for unhealthy foods, the part of the brain that inhibits addictive behavior becomes silent, and we lose the ability to have self-control. Sugar and refined carbohydrates take over and restructure the brain.
If studies continue to be successful, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation could be a life-changing option for people addicted to a variety of substances.
In 2017, scientists conducted trials of a new therapy for addicts called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), which treated depression and migraines for years. TMS runs an electric current through a wand that alters the electrical activity in the brain to activate the drug-damaged neural pathways that restrain behavior. So far the therapy is successful.2 If studies continue to be successful, this could be a life-changing option for people addicted to a variety of substances.
In addition to being addictive, sugar and refined carbohydrates cause disease. Chronic ailments such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity are related to the consumption of too much of the wrong types of food. Therefore, gaining knowledge is essential to changing one’s eating habits.
Determining whether you are a food addict will help you understand yourself and enable you to effectively overcome this addiction. To take an online quiz to determine if you are addicted to food go to ChristianYoga.com/resources where you will find a link to the quiz. If you are a food addict, I recommend you join a Christian-based weight-loss program or a twelve-step food addiction program along with a corresponding support group.
Fifty years ago food addiction was unheard of, but today with the way the food industry entices us with sugar, wheat, and artificial flavors it is common. Understanding that you have a food addiction will help you determine your course of action. We are more than physical beings; we are spiritual as well, and we can untangle the brain’s rewiring to reset it back to normal. In the next article, we will discuss a five-step freedom from addiction plan.
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- Fiona MacDonald, “Watch: This is How Sugar Affects Your Brain,” Science Alert, November 3, 2015.
- Fran Smith, “The Addicted Brain,” National Geographic, September 2017, 36–37, 42–43.