Researchers have identified patterns associated with addiction to sweets. You can break the vicious circle if you understand how your brain works when it desperately asks for sugar.
How much do you like sweets? It may seem to you that you are quite indifferent to desserts, but perhaps you prefer to eat at least one cookie or candy after lunch or even breakfast. At the same time, you can stick to a very balanced diet, cook healthy meals at home and take them with you to work, but still not give up sweets from the store. And the period of the New Year holidays often provokes us to consume more sugar than usual. All thanks to the Christmas menu in coffee shops, mulled wines and even some unsweetened dishes from the festive menu, which can make you forget about any diet.
Perhaps you’ve been waiting for Christmas cupcakes, panettone and gingerbread all year, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It is only important not to accustom the body to the constant use of sugar. Science reports that it can indeed be addictive, and although it is not a full-fledged addiction, studies show that there are parallels: sugar activates dopamine neural pathways and can cause reactions similar to addiction, including cravings, overeating and withdrawal.
This is bad news for our health. High sugar intake is associated with a range of conditions, from depression to heart disease. Meanwhile, there are many diets, books and applications that are designed to help cope with cravings for sweets. There are also special products. In the USA, the Sweetkick brand produces mint candies, which are claimed to reduce cravings for sweets, making its taste unattractive. The British company Killa Vanilla has a special inhaler with the smell of vanilla, which you need to use every time you feel like eating sweets. It is claimed that it causes the so-called “cross-modal effect of sensory compensation” and helps to overcome cravings once and for all.
Killa Vanilla co-founder Chris Huntley-Gordon says he and his business partner Dominic Chandler founded the company after realizing how addicted they were to sugar. After studying studies on the effect of vanilla, which kills this craving, they assembled a prototype inhaler. For several months, Huntley-Gordon did not eat sweets using his invention, and during this time he lost 8 kilograms.
Now, as Chandler says, he does not need to pick up an inhaler: he has retrained his brain so that it does not crave sweets. “Our brain is hunting for dopamine, and that’s why millions of people are addicted to sugar,” he said. “We call it hedonistic hunger: you want to cheer up, and Killa Vanilla gives you a rush of dopamine, but to a lesser extent.” In the future, business partners plan to use not only the smell of vanilla, but also flavors resembling chocolate, cookies, popcorn.
Dr. Nicole Avena, an associate professor of neuroscience who studies the effects of sugar on the brain at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, confirms that such devices can work. “The sense of smell and taste are probably related, but you will have to train your brain to find a reward in the smell of vanilla in the same way as it found a reward [from sweet food],” says the specialist. She also made a reservation that not every sweet tooth identifies the smell of vanilla as related to sweets.
Experts also note that if used incorrectly, the inhaler can increase cravings for food. The instructions recommend inhaling through the device for two full minutes: some studies show that the smell of vanilla for 30 seconds or less “pushes” you to sweet and actually increases cravings. Therefore, it is important not to rush through this ritual. Many also assume that in two minutes a sudden desire to eat something sweet can disappear by itself.
Dr. Nicole Avena claims that you can satisfy your craving for sweets without gadgets. She advises her patients to try to identify their “trigger foods”: certain sugary or starchy foods that may cause them to overeat. She says that for some people, the way out is to “take cookies out of the house,” while others will have a strong dopamine reaction to all foods rich in carbohydrates. “It’s about which sugars you can’t control,” says the doctor. Avena recommends eating fruits more often and reducing the amount of foods that have undergone ultra-processing due to the special effect they have on the brain. “If you eat an apple, it won’t cause a dopamine release,” Nicole explained. Namely, dopamine spikes destabilize our eating behavior.
It is worth limiting the presence of not only cookies, but also, for example, breakfast cereals and ready meals in the house. They contain a lot of sugar. The British National Health Service recommends limiting the amount of sugar consumed to 30 grams per day, which, with processed foods on the menu, is surprisingly simple — it’s the equivalent of a glass of orange juice and a bowl of cereal. So, on the day when you allow yourself these two positions, you should not eat other fruits, pastries, sweets and any other products containing sugar.
Reduce the presence of sugar in the products that form the basis of your menu, and you will gradually wean yourself from sweets. Get rid of treats that provoke overeating, and cook meals yourself more often using high-quality ingredients.