Have you ever thought about how that piece of pecan pie is affecting your brain? Many times a day we eat mindlessly without any thought to how our food is influencing us. Let’s take a few minutes and look at how sugar affects the brain
For years we believed that willpower was the key to eating a healthy diet and staying away from foods like pecan pie. Although research is now proving that willpower is a real thing, there are more factors at play than just willpower.
Hunger is a primal drive and necessary for survival. For the most of human history, food was scarce. We had to eat what we could when we could.
Today, though, food is everywhere, and it’s not the healthy kind of food. We are bombarded by heavily processed foods and refined sugar.
Have you ever found yourself eating even if you weren’t hungry? I sure have. More times than I’d like to admit, I have ordered and enjoyed dessert after eating a full meal. It wasn’t because I was hungry, that’s for sure. Does this sound familiar?
Or sometimes I will walk into the kitchen, open the cabinet and look for something to eat, but not because I’m hungry. It’s because I just want to eat.
This is known as insatiable hunger, and it all starts with the added sugar in our diets. By added sugar, I’m talking about sugar that you can find listed on the back of processed foods. You will see cane sugar, beet sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, agave, sucrose, dextrose (anything ending in -ose), maltitol, glycerine, and maltodextrin, just to name a few.
All forms of added sugar hit our insulin system harder than our bodies can stand, causing insulin levels to increase. Elevated insulin then blocks the hormone leptin, known as the satiety hormone. Healthy levels of leptin tell our brains when we have enough fat stored, are no longer hungry and can burn calories normally.
When increased insulin levels block the hormone leptin, we feel hungry and lazy causing us to overeat and move less.
I remember driving down the interstate and searching for a sign that there was a Dairy Queen nearby. All I wanted was a mini banana split blizzard.
Your craving may not be for a Dairy Queen blizzard; it might be for cookies, brownies or even savory foods. One thing is for sure though, if you have a craving, you will not be satisfied until you get the food you want.
What causes us to have such intense cravings?
Although refined sugar entered our diets in the 1700’s, the real trouble began in the 1970’s. High-fructose corn syrup entered the scene and was used to sweeten all kinds of foods, especially processed foods.
At this point, sugar flooded our diets and our brains. As a result of the sugar stimulation, our brains reacted by producing more and more dopamine.
Our brains are not equipped to handle this much stimulation. It results in a process called downregulating. This is where the brain thins out dopamine receptors to adapt to the overload.
As we do this, we are changing the physiology of our brains and craving more and more of these foods.
The good news is this process can be reversed, but how?
Resetting Our Brains
To reset our dopamine and leptin levels back to normal, we have to give our brains some time to rest. And we can do this by restricting the amount of sugar and other processed foods we eat.
Reducing the amount of sugar we consume is difficult in the beginning, but gets easier with time. You just have to be open to changing how you eat, retraining your palate, and learning to eat mindfully.
In the next article, we will look some practical tips for reducing the amount of sugar and processed foods that we eat daily.
We have been conditioned to believe that losing weight and improving health is a matter of willpower and discipline. As you can see from this information, there is far more to the story than just willpower.
That’s good news! We have control over how much sugar we put in our bodies, and therefore, we can mitigate the effect it has on our brains.