Did you just polish off a bag of potato chips and now you are trying to scoop out the crumbs? That pastry didn't really taste that great, but you could not stop eating. Busted. Guilt overtakes your mind. Guilt is followed by shame which triggered another round of eating for comfort.
This is your brain on the one drug that is not outlawed, regulated or even recognized for its dangerous power of addiction. This drug is sugar
Brain Science Unlocks the Genetic Code for Sugar Addiction
If you’re a sugar addict, resisting a pint of ice cream, a bag of gummy bears, or a square of chocolate is no easy task — and it may seem that your weakness is not being able to get enough of the sweet stuff. According to new loading up on sugar really is a sign of weakness: Some people have a “weaker” perception to sweet tastes — and may need to pack more sugar to get the same punch as people who have a stronger reaction.
Behavioral geneticists at Monell Chemical Senses Center have studied the science behind sensations, including taste. In their latest research they have unlocked the clue to the sweet tooth, and genetics come into play. Having a specific genetic variant on the human sweet reception gives people have a “weaker” perception to sweet tastes. So, if you have an altered sweet receptor, you may need to pack more sugar to get the same punch as people who have a stronger reaction.
What Your DNA says about your sweet tooth
Many people believe that we crave sweet foods because of exposure as children. However, your sweet tooth is largely determined by your nature, not how you were nurtured. Monell Chemical Senses Center also conducted a study with both identical twins, whose genetic codes are identical, and fraternal twins. In this study, researchers were able to determine that genetic factors — not environmental ones — accounted for about 30 percent of the variance in sweet perception between people. Other brain science research does, however, point to the addiction center being stimulated with repeated exposure of sugar. Your brain addiction center is similar to other muscles: the more you activate it, the stronger it gets. People with this gene variant are more likely to fall into this sugar addiction pattern.
Emotional eating & a sugar addiction
Similar to a sweet tooth, we also often hear the term “emotional eating.” Eating in every society is tied to ceremonies and celebrations. Because of this, we are all wired to eat in tandem with happy and sad occasions. It is completely normal to crave a bag of potato chips or cookies after a stressful day at work. However, emotional eating can become a disorder if it is causing one of two problems.
The first red flag is if the eating is leading to weight gain or obesity. Another indicator is if you feel out of control around food or are hiding your eating from others. It is ok to indulge, so you should never be afraid of eating!
You are not a victim of your genes
So why do can’t we convince our bodies to crave healthy alternatives? Carbohydrates, sugar, and saturated fats release chemicals within the body to stimulate areas of the brain that relieve pain and release an endorphin high. These are the same areas of the brain that are stimulated when we consume opoid pain medications or cannaboid. These foods are simulating a “drug high.” With repeated eating during heightened emotions, you are training your brain to want and crave the euphoric feeling from time each time you feel pain or sadness.
You can also cut down on your sweet tooth cravings, by skipping the processed sugars and carbohydrates largely found in cookies or cakes. Instead pick complex carbohydrates and those rich in fibers. Examples of these foods are found in fruits and whole grains like oats.
Mind hacks to overcome your sugar addiction
To combat both a sweet tooth craving and emotional eating, you must also change your mindset and habits. I suggest implementing this three step brain health and mindfulness-based approach.
1. Recognize your emotions and name them. For example, you could say to yourself, “My boss’ behavior at work today made me feel angry.” Emotional eaters are often detached from their negative emotions until they are physically eating the comfort food that is soothing these feelings.
2. Create a list of other self-soothing behaviors that help you release these emotions. Activities can include taking a hot shower, walking outside, or talking about your frustrations and feelings to a compassionate confidant.
3. Create a support system to help you practice steps 1 and 2. Just because emotional eating has been a lifelong pattern does not mean you cannot rewire your brain to default to healthier, soothing behaviors. Support from family, friends, and mental health professionals will continue to help you create health emotional and eating behaviors.
You got this, one bite at a time.