Hidden Dangers of Sugar and Starch Addiction

Sugar fuels every cell in the brain. When you eat sugary foods, studies have shown how the sugar alters your brain chemicals to affect when you feel (or rather, don’t feel) full and how much you eat.

In lab studies, rats that binged on sugar had brain stimulation like those of people that take drugs. A study in rats found that a brain region important for pleasure was activated more strongly when the animals were exposed to Oreos compared to cocaine. In humans, just seeing pictures of milkshakes triggered brain effects like those seen in drug addicts.

Don’t really feel like you have a “sweet tooth”, but crave bagels, chips, or French fries? These starchy foods are complex carbs that the body breaks down into simple sugars. Eaten without better foods, starches can make blood sugar surge and crash exactly like sugar. White rice, white flour, and potatoes do this as well as highly refined starches like white bread, pretzels, crackers, and pasta.

Honey, brown sugar, agave, fruit juice and cane juice may sound healthy. But, sadly, they’re about as bad for you as white table sugar. Sugar is sugar. Whether it comes from bees or sugar cane, it can cause your blood sugar to rise. Honey and unrefined sugars are slightly higher in nutrients but they still spike your blood sugar in the same way and contain as many calories.

To make this more challenging, you don’t always see the word “sugar” on a food label. There’s actually 257 (!) names for sugars, which are often used on packaged food labels so you don’t realize what you’re actually eating. Here’s just a few…you can see the full list on MyFitnessPal.com.

  • Agave nectar
  • Brown rice syrup
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Molasses
  • Carob syrup
  • Cane juice
  • Cellobiose
  • Concentrate juice
  • ECJ (evaporated cane juice)
  • Dextrose
  • Disaccharide
  • D-xylose
  • Ethyl maltol
  • HFCS (high fructose corn syrup)
  • Isomalt

If you’re eating processed or pre-packaged foods, you may not realize just how much sugar you’re actually ingesting. It’s laced in everything from salad dressing to spaghetti sauce to yogurt to ketchup to cans of peas.

If you feel like it would be next to impossible to eat less sugar (or sugar-free foods, which have been shown to cause the same responses in the body) or starch, you are not gluttonous, nor weak-willed, nor any other self-recriminating belief you may have about yourself and your relationship to food.

Your hormones, taste buds and brain chemistry have been hijacked by the food industry. Once you understand the dynamics at play in food addiction, you will never think the same way again about Snapple, Diet Coke, dressings and processed snacks.

The pleasure we get from these substances comes from the release of dopamine in the brain, which reinforces the behavior. However, stimulating the brain in this way does not guarantee addiction, it only means that substances that act this way have the potential to be addictive.

Some of us are more susceptible to the addictive nature of sugar than others. There’s actually many factors that influence the likelihood of addiction, from availability of the substance to genetics to past history with other addictions.

Most people know that sugar is not good for them, but for some reason, they think the risk of excess sugar consumption is less than that of having too much saturated and trans fat, sodium or calories. What many don’t realize is that sugar can damage your heart, which was reported in a 2013 study by the American Heart Association.

It’s also linked to a condition called “leptin resistance.” Leptin is a hormone that tells your brain to stop eating when you’ve had enough food. But if leptin isn’t released properly, the brain ceases to get this signal…and you never feel like you’ve had enough.

In 2012, authors writing for the journal Nature showed evidence that excess sugar can have a toxic effect on the liver, much like the effect of alcohol on the liver.

There’s some good news in all of this, I promise. The first step is developing awareness about your relationship with food: what you’re putting into it or how you’re behaving with food regularly.

Once you have an awareness of what’s going on, the next giant leap is actually wanting to make a change.

Thirdly, you can begin to look at the habits in your life you want to break and replace them with new habits. Rather than seeing this as a new “diet” that’s restricting your choices, or another way to “control” yourself, the key to success is learning how to feel differently about food and your ability to be in control of your life.

For myself, once I started acknowledging that I actually did have a problem with sugar addiction and a binge eating habit, things shifted. Now I could look for information about addiction and the psychology of motivation in order to understand how to get leverage on myself when it was difficult.

Awareness and baby steps add up to life-transforming victories.

If you want to learn how to break through your habit of overeating or binge eating, my Binge Eating Breakthrough ebook is for you. You'll learn powerful tools and distinctions to be able to understand and overcome your urges to eat more than you want. You'll also learn step-by-step strategies for managing your cravings and feeling control with food. If you want to check things out first, sign up for my free Binge Eating Breakthrough video course in the right sidebar.

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