Have you ever gotten out of bed in the morning with a bad case of the hangries – or maybe in the evening during that space of time between the end of work and dinner? You know, that state of mind you find yourself in where your hunger takes over your ability to control your anger, leaving you irritable and aggressive. Hangry, a clever portmanteau pairing hungry with angry, is very real and happens more often then you might think.
Hunger and the hangries are your brain’s way of telling you it needs sustenance. Although your brain only represents about 2% of your body weight, it uses up to 30% of all the energy you consume. It runs primarily on glucose (sugar) that is converted from the foods you eat. The brain uses some of that energy to regulate emotions including anger.
What compounds the hangries is that anger is the emotion people have the most difficulty controlling. Moreover, the same hormone that tells the brain it needs fuel also fires up the brain regions linked to anxiety and stress – ergo hangry.
As you can see, when it comes to matters of the brain, with its billions of switches, things can get rather complicated pretty quickly.
But there is much more to this story. A hundred years ago when a person needed a sugar fix they’d eat fruits and vegetables. This is important because not only were they getting the nutrients that convert to glucose in the body and feed the brain, but also other essential nutrients that slowly entered their system. But that has all changed with advent of the big box grocery retailers.
There was a time in this country when people would buy their general grocery items at the local grocery store, their meats and cold cuts from the local butcher, fruits and vegetables from the local produce store, and breads, cakes and pastries from the local baker. The food was fresh and, more times than not, from local farms. I dare say that the foods I ate in my youth were closer to what we consider today as ‘organic,’ as opposed to what you buy off the shelf everyday.
Things changed when the big box grocery retailers came into prominence. They offered a time saving one-stop shop with a wider selection and lower prices. Everyone bought into it. Consequently, many of the local boutique stores couldn’t compete and ended up closing their doors.
However, and what most people didn’t realize at the time, was that to facilitate the wider selection/lower prices promise, something had to give. It ended up being the quality of the food being offered. Whole foods were replaced with manufactured, highly processed meals and food products; freshness was replaced with toxic chemical preservatives –none of which can be digested by any living creature so the product would have a longer shelf-life.
All of this coincided with other major changes in the food industry. There was new language being bantered back and forth such as ‘bliss point’ and ‘food optimization.’ This was the beginning of a new era in the food industry where more recipes loaded with empty calories were designed in the laboratory then in the kitchen.
Howard Moskowitz was at the forefront of the massive changes. He graduated from Harvard in 1969 with a Ph.D. in experimental Psychology. He also has degrees in Mathematics and Psychology from Queens College in New York. While working for a food manufacturer he discovered that the perfect combination of sugar, salt, and fat would optimize the human brain’s pleasure experience. He coined it as the “bliss point.”
In essence, what Moskowitz developed in the mid 70’s was a way to make food addictive which forces unwitting consumers to eat more than they should or even want.
Moskowitz’s discovery launched a whole new science and paradigm in the food industry focused solely on sensory perception of food while turning a blind eye to nutrition.
Among top scientist and researchers, it is accepted that sugar, in and of itself, is addictive. Sugar stimulates the production of dopamine, the primary neurotransmitter of the anticipation of reward and/or pleasure. It’s the molecule that puts a smile on your face and a song in your heart when you perceive a good or happy experience is about to occur, like for example, the feeling you get when you think a great meal is in your immediate future.
This has more to do with what is going on in your brain than in your stomach. Sugar affects the same brain region and has a similar, yet milder, effect as opioids, cocaine, methamphetamines, nicotine, and morphine. Findings from multiple research studies suggest that sugar can be as addictive as cocaine! Just the mere suggestion of a food loaded with sugar, whether you’re aware of the sugar content or not, can make your mouth water and create cravings. You could experience this just by driving past a restaurant or walking down the isle of a grocery store or hearing a food suggestion from a friend. Have you ever eaten something only to wonder why you were craving it in the first place?
Eating junk food makes you want to eat more junk food.
Like any business, the food industry is always looking for ways to cut costs. With this in mind, years ago, many in the industry replaced cane sugar with cheaper sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – a sweetener made from cornstarch. It can be found in most sodas, breakfast cereals, regular and fast food restaurants, condiments, breads and processed foods – more or less, just about everywhere in our food chain.
Here is the rub. Normally when the brain needs fuel, it flips a switch that sends us out looking for food. Once we have a bite to eat, the low sugar levels are replenished and the brain turns the switch to the off position. Feeling sated, we go about our merry way. But that is not the case with high fructose corn syrup. Even though the sugar levels have increased to a satisfactory extent, the HFCS doesn’t turn the switch off leaving us in a continual perceived state of food deprivation.
Sure, the food industry employs tens of thousands of people and is turning profits like never before – but at what cost to the average American? 200 years ago, the average American ate about 2 lbs of sugar a year. Today, that number is an astonishing 168 lbs! Nothing good can come of this.
Sugar consumption has been associated with depression, ADHD and hyperactivity, increased triglycerides, high blood pressure, lower HDL, and higher LDL cholesterol; it also feeds cancer cells.
Brain imaging studies showed sugar causes increased slow brain waves, and a study at UCLA showed that sugar alters learning and memory.
It is no coincidence that today the U.S. has the highest rate of obesity of any country. Nor is it a coincidence that diabetes is on the rise. According to the CDC, more than 100,000,000 americans have diabetes or pre-diabetes – a condition that often leads to full-blown type 2 diabetes in 5 years or less. That’s nearly 1/3 of the entire American population and that rate is growing. Both of these diseases began to grow at the same time the food industry introduced sugar, salt and fat into the food chain.
Are you addicted to sugar? Take this simple quiz:
1. Do you consume certain foods even if you are not hungry because of cravings?
2. Do you worry about cutting down on certain foods?
3. Do you feel sluggish or fatigued from overeating?
4. Do you have health or social problems (affecting school or work) because of food issues and yet keep eating the way you do despite negative consequences?
5. Do you need more and more of the foods you crave to experience any pleasure or reduce negative emotions?
If you answered yes to any one of these questions there is a good chance your brain has been hijacked by the food industry and as a consequence, your health is slipping away everyday you stay in the sugar trap. There is really no other way to say it other than you need to get your sugar consumption under control.
David A. Kessler is a Harvard-trained doctor, lawyer, medical school dean and former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (1990 – 1997). He has done extensive research on the effects of sugar, salt and fat on the human body. He believes that a perceptual shift in the way we view food needs to take place before we see any shift to the current paradigm. “We did this with cigarettes. It used to be sexy and glamorous but now people look at it and say, ‘That’s not my friend, that’s not something I want.’ We need to make a cognitive shift as a country and change the way we look at food. Instead of viewing that huge plate of nachos and fries as a guilty pleasure, we have to look at it and say, ‘That is not going to make me feel good. In fact, that’s disgusting.’ “ I hope this helps you end your sugar addiction.
John Giordano is the founder of ‘Life Enhancement Aftercare & Chronic Relapse Recovery Center,’ an Addiction Treatment Consultant, President and Founder of the National Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies, Chaplain of the North Miami Police Department and is the Second Vice President of the Greater North Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce. He is on the editorial board of the highly respected scientific Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome (JRDS) and has contributed to over 65 papers published in peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals. For the latest development in cutting-edge addiction treatment, check out his websites: www.PreventAddictionRelapse.com