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The Science Behind Sugar Cravings

Technically, the food that we eat should serve as fuel for our activities. Unfortunately, too often, the food we take in serves as a way to beat boredom or find relief from stress. The power of food cravings makes it hard to eat well.


There are many foods that trigger a release of dopamine, the "feel-good" hormone. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that impacts your emotions and makes you feel good when you have enough. Broccoli can feed your cells, but chocolate chip cookies cause a dopamine rush that broccoli just can't touch. Strong, reliable dopamine releases increase people's risk of becoming addicted. If you have a 3 p.m. candy-bar habit, it's most likely being driven by dopamine rather than hunger. When you take away the habit, you may become irritable or feel sleepy. This is a combination of adrenal fatigue and low levels of dopamine.

Increased Tolerance

Like many addictions, what was once a treat becomes normalized and, eventually, becomes a need. Thus, you build up a tolerance for sugar, and it becomes an addictive substance. Sugar may also give you a burst of energy, but then you enter the blood sugar roller coaster. Increasing your sugar intake leads to an energy spike. Then, your insulin production goes up, which leads to adrenal fatigue and a blood sugar drop. This is where sugar becomes an addiction. In addition to your 3 p.m. candy bar, you'll start to need a snack in the car on the way home or a soda with your candy bar. None of these calories really do you much good, and you may have time to burn them off. Still, your brain registers that your dopamine levels are boosted by sugar and equates candy bars and soda with feeling good.

Breaking the Addiction

Cutting out sugar rapidly can lead to hypoglycemia. Symptoms of this condition include exhaustion, shaky hands, inability to concentrate and irritability. When you're hypoglycemic, you are producing very low levels of dopamine. A little sugar can boost your energy and dopamine levels, but they will drop again quickly. The goal is to build up a daily food-intake pattern that keeps your dopamine levels steady.

Getting away from sugar as a source of positive emotions can be a challenge, especially if it's your go-to when you're stressed or upset. Remember that eating sugary snacks is often a habit rather than a nutritional choice. Break the habit by understanding what the trigger is and build in a different reward to release dopamine with something other than sugar.

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