January 17, 2010

Sugar: More Addictive Than Crack?

Many people like to downplay the significance of consuming a diet high in sugar. Despite loads of research to the contrary, people don’t want to admit that high sugar consumption can be extremely dangerous for your health. Thankfully, mainstream media is starting to highly some of the dangers. Recently, ABC ran a report on junk food and addiction. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend spending 5 minutes watching the clip:

Good Morning America: Junk food may be as addictive as drugs

Although many of us experience cravings for junk food, what we don’t realize is that for certain people the need for junk food can be as intense as for a heroin junkie needing a fix. Scary stuff! What I find particularly fascinating, although not surprising, is that the addictive properties of junk food are far more pronounced for people struggling with obesity.

What does this mean for weight loss? For starters, it’s apparent we need to do away with the belief that people who struggle with their weight are necessarily “lazy” or “weak willed”. Weight loss isn’t easy at the best of times; factor in brain chemistry changes on a par with heroin addiction and combating obesity takes on a whole new level of complexity.

Secondly, simple calorie counting or basic advice such as “eat smaller portions” is woefully deficient. Effective obesity treatment must involve cognitive behavioural therapy, the avoidance of junk foods and possible pharmacological intervention. Although I’m loathe to endorse drugs as a treatment of choice, I appreciate the effectiveness of methadone for treating heroine addiction. To think obesity treatment would entail any less extreme interventions is quite narrow-minded in my opinion.

Now before anyone gets the wrong idea, my support for pharmacological interventions in the treatment of obesity in no way suggests we remove personal responsibility from the weight loss equation. Fat may not be your fault, however fat remains your responsibility.  Although, there are some people who can eat all the refined sugars, high-fat snack foods and alcohol they want  and stay remarkably lean (I’m not suggesting this is healthy), this clearly isn’t the case for most of us.

If you carry the unfortunate genetic predisposition for excess body fat and a stronger than normal response to high sugar/high fat foods, you need to avoid junk foods like the plague. No “sweets are ok in moderation”, no “cheat days”, no “forgetting your lunch so you’ll just grab something quick at that burger place”. Recovering cocaine addicts know they can’t have have “a little hit from time to time”; the same strategy should apply to junk food. Is this the “sexy” answer? No. But it is the correct one.

Ridiculous weight loss plans or relying on artificial sugar- or fat-substitutes will never produce sustainable weight loss. Unfortunately, rewiring our brains and behaviours takes time, effort and is replete with ups and downs. But just as any addiction can be overcome with the proper plan and support, breaking free of a junk food cycle is within everyone’s means.

graeme

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