There are many ridiculous myths in nutrition.
The idea that losing weight is all about calories and willpower is one of the worst.
The truth is… sugar and highly processed junk foods can be addictive, just like drugs.
Not only are the behavioral symptoms the same, but the biology also happens to agree.
Here are 10 disturbing similarities between sugar, junk food and abusive drugs.
– Junk Foods Flood The Brain With Dopamine
Our brains are hardwired to want to perform certain behaviors.
Mostly, these are behaviors that are important for our survival… such as eating.
When we eat, a brain hormone called dopamine is released in an area of the brain called the reward system.
We interpret this dopamine signal as “pleasure” and the programming in our brain changes to make us want to perform that behavior again.
This is one of the ways the brain evolved to help us navigate through our natural environment, motivating us to do things that helped our species survive.
This is actually a good thing… without dopamine, life would be miserable.
But the problem is that some modern things can function as “superstimuli” – they flood our brains with dopamine, way more than we were ever exposed to throughout evolution.
This can lead to these brain pathways being “hijacked” by the intense dopamine signal.
A great example of this is the drug cocaine… when people take it, it floods the brain with dopamine, and the brain changes its programming to want to take cocaine again, and again, and again.
The dopamine pathways that are supposed to guide people towards survival have now been taken over by the new stimulus, which releases more dopamine and is a much stronger behavioral reinforcer than anything in the natural environment.
But here’s where it gets really interesting… sugar and highly processed junk foods can have the same effect as drugs of abuse.
They also function as “superstimuli” – they flood the brain with much more dopamine than we would get by eating real food, like an apple or an egg.
Numerous studies have shown this to be true. Junk foods and sugar flood the reward system with dopamine, particularly a brain area called the Nucleus accumbens, which is strongly implicated in addiction.
Sugar also has some effects on opioid pathways within the brain, the same system manipulated by drugs like heroin and morphine.
This is why highly processed, sugar-laden foods can make (some) people lose control over their consumption. They hijack the same brain pathways as drugs of abuse.
Bottom Line: Studies have shown that sugar and junk foods flood the reward system in the brain with dopamine, stimulating the same areas as drugs of abuse like cocaine.
– Junk Foods Can Lead to Powerful Cravings
People often confuse them with hunger… but the two are not the same thing.
Hunger is caused by various complex physiological signals that involve the body’s need for energy and nutrients.
However, people often get cravings despite having just finished a fulfilling, nutritious meal.
This is because cravings are not about satisfying your body’s need for energy, instead it is your brain calling for “reward.”
In other words, your brain drives you towards that dopamine/opioid signal.
Getting this sort of need for a highly rewarding food, even when the body is nourished (and perhaps even too well nourished), is absolutely not natural and has nothing to do with real hunger.
Cravings for junk foods are actually very similar to cravings for drugs, cigarettes and other addictive substances. The obsessive nature and thought processes are identical.
Bottom Line: Cravings are a common symptom when it comes to both junk foods and addictive drugs, and have very little to do with actual hunger.
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