I don’t claim to be a scientist but I feel I know enough about food addiction and emotional-eating that I am going to challenge the recent article in The Guardian, “Eating, Not Sugar, is Addictive” as only being half right. The article which outlines the results of a study about overeating is suggesting that it is the pleasure from eating as being the reason why we keep going for seconds and thirds. Also that there are reasons why we gravitate around particular foods and that is because they meet our emotional needs. Absolutely! But saying that sugar plays no role in addictive eating is not something I can agree with. I wrote a book, Eating Myself Crazy: How I Made Peace With Food (and How You Can too) about this very subject. Being a former emotional-eater with fairly serious compulsive eating behaviors I know all too well about food addiction. Here are a few points I would like to share:
Wired To Love Food
We as a species are hard-wired to enjoy food. It is purposely set up that our primitive brains have a reward-system that fires up when we eat. It is necessary for our survival. Imagine back in the caveman days when you had to hunt food with sticks and stones. It was not only extremely hard work under difficult conditions but dangerous. If our brains weren’t circuited the way they are in regards to feelings of pleasure from food, we probably would have been extinct before we even got started. Those pleasant memories of how tasty that fire-charcoaled carcass motivated hunters to go out and catch another meal. The two issues with today’s modern lifestyle and over-eating is that it doesn’t take much effort to attain food and our modern foods are 100 times tastier than smoked muskrat.
Feeding Your Feelings
Many of us are using food as an automatic response to deal with overwhelming feelings. The urge to eat and not feel physical hunger usually indicates the need to address stress, low energy and moods. Food can soothe anxiety, comfort hurt feelings and ease tension. Turning to food is a learned behavior as we realize food makes us feel better, motivating us to repeat the behavior without much thought. Eventually this coping mechanism becomes very hard to break as it becomes firmly established after we increase the use and intensity of eating for comfort. We also typically associate foods with certain moods. Our cravings usually zero in on sugary, fatty or salty foods. Our modern foods are full of sugar, fat and salt so getting a hit of relief is as easy as putting coins into a vending machine. Food is also a good distractor as we have a tendency to avoid negative feelings. Therefore, directly facing whatever it is that is making us feel bad, inadequate, lonely, depressed or stressed is usually rarely addressed.
So that is where I concur with the article, Eating, Not Sugar, is Addictive. Where I have trouble completely aligning myself with this written piece is that they are implying that sugar is not addicting. Sugar is very addicting! In my emotional-eating days, I did get pleasure from eating but sugar was always my go-to food. How many people have trouble over-eating raw vegetables? Have you ever binged-out on celery? Gone completely out of control from eating too many apples? I am going to guess probably not. Its cookies, cupcakes, candy, ice cream and the sugary drinks and candy that seem to pull us into its seductive clutches. I gravitated towards these foods and couldn’t go a day without them. When I started becoming curious about food and why it was so hard to eliminate sugar, I began to understand the effects of processed sugar. Sugar releases opioids or pain-relieving chemicals that the body naturally produces as well as dopamine, the pleasure-seeking chemical. Studies have shown that sugar is just as enticing as cocaine to rats. Sugar sparks up the areas in the brain the same as cocaine, heroin and morphine. That started to make sense why I was experiencing major withdrawals when I began to eliminate processed sugary foods out of my diet. I was still eating foods I loved even fruit that contained natural sugars. Shouldn’t the pleasure from eating be enough? I am very skeptical about this study and the results. Especially with so much on the line in regards to the sugar and soda industry losing billions of dollars if we start concluding that sugar is an addictive substance. All I can tell you is that since I greatly decreased my sugar intake I no longer crave it or depend on it to get my through the day. I broke my sugar addiction. Yes, I said it, my SUGAR addiction. But I still very much enjoy eating.
Another must-read article is by healthambition.com