Our society faces an epidemic because over half of Americans live with a chronic illness, and a third suffer from obesity. The American health crisis is primarily due to the overconsumption of sugar and processed foods. 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. This video explains how we get hooked on foods with a high sugar content.
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 or pet a dog. 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. That person can think only about eating that food item to experience the euphoria it brings.
We enjoy the feeling of dopamine, so we keep eating carbs. At some point, an overconsumption of sugar and processed foods rewire the brain’s neural pathways and cause 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.