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A spoon full of Sugar

Updated: Jul 9, 2021


When I hear the word addiction I instinctively think about illegal substances. The idea that a person can be addicted to sugar has recently gained increasing support. Can sugar be an addiction?

You bet your scientifically tested lab rats it can. Sugar brain is real, and brace for impact because you don’t even think you know half of it yet!

In March 2010, The Scripps Research Institute released a ground-breaking study. Rats who were fed sugar and bad fat-filled diets developed full-blown food addictions: a natural neurochemical dependency as powerful as those caused by illegal drugs such as cocaine. It was astonishing how far these food addicted rats would go to maintain their habit. When researchers withheld the junk food and tried to put the rats back on a healthy diet, these obese rats refused to eat, almost to the point of starvation. The rats would even choose to endure painful shocks to get the junk food. I know what you are thinking, you are not a primitive rodent and will not resort to self-inflicting physical pain to get that piece of cheesecake. Or would you?


Further research on the effects of sugar on the brain found that overconsumption can actually decrease brain mass and alter, even change our brain chemistry. So basically, sugar shrinks your brain. True fact. Shrunken sugar brain was discovered in a landmark research study published in 2015 by Felice N. Jacka and colleagues. This was the first human study that linked a shrunken brain to eating sugar and bad fats, confirming the same phenomenon previously found in animal studies. Research subjects were followed over 4 years and underwent two MRI scans, one at the beginning of the study and the second one 4 years later. The researchers examined all the different types of food the subjects ate over the 4 years. Food was classified into two categories: Western foods and Healthy foods. Western foods were those concentrated in sugar in many different forms and bad fats. The Healthy foods were from food groups that don’t send blood sugar levels soaring. You can read the whole study here: Research Article


The conclusion of the study made headlines around the world: People who ate lots of sugar and bad fats over the 4 years lost significant volume in the hippocampus, the learning, memory, and emotion part of the brain. And sure enough, the secondary result was an increased waistline. Here is the brace for impact part, a shrunken hippocampus that occurs when you overconsume sugar and bad fats have been linked to three different emotions or patterns of behaviour.

  • You may feel blue, a small hippocampus can negatively affect your ability to regulate mood.

  • You may feel impulsive, a shrunken hippocampus has been linked to impaired impulse control. This impulsivity makes resisting food and cravings exceedingly difficult.

  • You may feel stuck. Sugar brain can change your emotional responses and affects your decision-making skills. Making it hard to kick bad habits and chose new healthy ones.

Enter aha moment!…. Have you ever tried to stick to a diet but found yourself weak and unable to resist your food cravings? Ashamed that your willpower is not strong enough, which in turn makes you eat even more sugar and bad fats? Your willpower is not the problem. Let me explain…


Pleasure pathways in our brain send signals to various parts controlling, hunger, memory, emotions, and or mood. It's all one super connected highway operating at Star Trek warp speed! Sugar stimulates the production and release of Serotonin and Dopamine.

Serotonin is the feel good hormone that helps us feel calm, at peace, optimistic, and positive about ourselves. The brain chemical Dopamine is an energising, vitalising substance that our brains produce in response to pleasure and excitement.


The strong connection between sugar and the pleasure we feel in our brains from Serotonin and Dopamine forms food cravings. Think back to the last time you needed to eat that chocolate or when you overindulged in that tub of ice cream. It felt good, and you enjoyed eating it. All is well with you and the world. When you are anxious, stressed, or sleep deprived your food cravings urge you to seek out food laden with sugar. Why? The serotonin and dopamine make you feel better. A craving is born. You don’t need the food, but you want it. You go for a second piece, and the more you do, the more your brain shrinks. Do that a 100 times, and you’ve created a pathway of deeply ingrained behaviour. A habit. An addiction.


Let’s look at this downward spiral. The more you eat sugar and bad fats, the more you become addicted to them. The more addicted to them you become, the more you eat them. The more you eat them, the more you shrink your brain. The more you shrink your hippocampus, the more you feel blue, stuck, impulsive, and foggy. The more you feel this way, the more sugar you need to feel better. The more impossible it becomes to resist your cravings because now it’s an addiction. Because of the tolerance element in addiction, you’ll need more and more sugar just to get the same comfort. And so on.


That is the reality, sugar can be a very real addiction, its everywhere and not illegal, which makes it all the more challenging beating the downward spiral. As with all addictions, there is always a way out and you can get help to stop your Sugar Addiction and lose weight.


If you want help with Sugar Addiction and don't know where to start contact me on jestine@sprezzatura.net.za



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