I’ve tried quitting sugar. I’ve read all about how unhealthy it is and how my entire world would be a perkier place if I could kick the habit. But it’s not that easy.
When the L.A. Times reported on October 16th that sugar is as addictive as cocaine and morphine, I just nodded, scraping clean the bottom of a container of the Raw Ice Cream Company’s Cinnamon Vanilla. News to science, maybe, but not to me.
Professor Joseph Schroeder and his students at Connecticut College, who had the bad taste to experiment on rats, found that the poor little critters “formed an equally strong association between the pleasurable effects of eating Oreos and a specific environment as they did between cocaine or morphine and a specific environment.”
Though I have no doubt this finding is accurate, the scientists’ method strikes me as a little weak. They put the rats in a maze (what is this fetish researchers have with putting small rodents in mazes?) and measured how long they spent on each of two sides. On one side they gave the animals Oreos. On the other side, they gave them rice cakes.
Rice cakes. Really? Wouldn’t the result have been more reliable if the rats were choosing between Oreos and another edible thing?
I’m not the only one who caught this flaw in the experimental design. Schroeder himself observed, “just like humans, rats don’t seem to get much pleasure out of eating rice cakes.”
As far as the drug comparison, the rats in that study got a maze with injections of cocaine or morphine on one side and shots of saline on the other. The furballs in the cookie study spent as much time in the Oreo corner as the ones in the drug study spent shooting up. Perhaps the real deduction is that rice cakes are as boring as salt water.
But there was other evidence that Oreos are not just addictive, but even more thrilling than hard drugs: they activate “more neurons in the brain’s ‘pleasure center,’” UPI reports.
Researcher Schroeder believes this explains why people eat foods that are high in sugar and fat even when they know those products are bad for them.
Tearing into a sleeve of Nutter Butter Bites, I nodded again. I know they are bad for me — check. I’m eating them anyway — check. Apparently I’m behaving like an opioid addict but there is no methadone equivalent for desserts. What to do?
Leave it to a Los Angeles-based newspaper to get right to the heart of the matter: cutting calories. In just the second sentence of the L.A. Times article about Schroeder’s experiment, the paper introduces a doctor who helps women kick the sugar habit. Dr. Timothy Morley says that step one is acknowledging the problem, but we all know this from 12-step meeting scenes in Hollywood movies. What’s next?
Things get trite from here with the usual diet advice: control portions and avoid food with sweeteners because they “can cause people to binge eat more often.” Since the question at hand is how to avoid food with sweeteners, this is not particularly helpful.
The final tidbit the Times and Morley offer is to find other things that activate my brain’s pleasure centers.
Now this could be fun.
Photo credit: Thinkstock/iStock
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