SUGAR is such an emotive subject. Whenever I post a blog or host a live chat about the dangers of sugar it promotes huge conversation about whether it should be cut down or cut out. This then Instantly promotes more discussion with people saying “But if you cut down on sugar or cut it out, that’s dieting.”
The key is to lose the desire for sugar so that it doesn’t hold the same pleasure any more.
This is one of the things my Slimpod programme does but we need to look at the food we’re eating, too.
Not in a diet way, of course, because Slimpod’s not about that at all.
I’m making you aware of something that’s not just about shifting fat. It’s about your health.
I really think the focus needs to be changed from “I need to lose 2 stone” to “I need to put good food in my mouth because my health is important to me.”
Sugar is one of the foods in the Ultra Processed Food category (UPF) which plays havoc with your health and your ability to lose weight.
I’ve created a video which might help you work out whether sugar is a bad habit or whether you’re actually addicted. It’s towards the end of the blog – but don’t rush to scroll down right away or you’ll miss some important learnings.
There’s been a lot of awareness about UPF recently including a BBC documentary by Chris van Tulleken (I appeared on TV with his brother Xand in the How To Lose Weight Well series).
Ultra Processed Food is everywhere
You probably don’t realise it, but UPF makes up most of our diet in Britain. It’s everywhere — sandwiches you buy in a shop, sausages you cook for the family, frozen pizza, nearly all breakfast cereals, almost all snacks.
Even so-called “healthy” items labelled “low sugar” and “wholemeal’ are Ultra Processed Food. So is most supermarket bread and fizzy drinks..
Dr Fernanda Rauber, of Sao Paulo University in Brazil, a world pioneer in identifying UPF, says: “It’s not really food…it’s an industrially-modified edible substance.”
All UPF has something in common: It’s high in calories and sugar BUT low in nutrition and fibre. There is good evidence that regularly eating UPFs actually changes the reward and habit centres of your brain in a way that looks like addiction.
That’s our old friend dopamine, Nature’s “pleasure drug”, kicking in.
Which is why industrial foodmakers formulate UPF the way they do – to make us eat it, keep eating it, then keep eating even more.
Research shows that UPF actually makes us eat it faster and consume significantly more calories. Of course, the more we eat the more their profits go up.
And so do our waist measurements.
One person in five in Britain is estimated to consume a diet high in Ultra Processed Food and new research I’ve been studying from Imperial College London has shown beyond doubt that UPF is the main driver of obesity.
Research shows some foods, especially those high in fat and sugar (as many UPFs are), stimulate a greater sense of reward than others.
Ultra Processed Food affects the brain
Psychologist Dr Douglas Lisle warns this can lead to a “dietary pleasure trap” as our biological instincts tell us “to seek the most pleasure for the least pain and the least effort.”
Dopamine may also interact with the neurotransmitter glutamate, which plays a role in habit learning, craving and relapse.
As an experiment, Chris van Tulleken ate 80 per cent UPF for a month, after which an activity scan of his brain showed areas responsible for reward had made links with areas that drive repetitive, automatic behaviour (habits by another name).
“These were connections that weren’t there before”, he said, adding it was like the response of someone taking addictive drugs, such as alcohol or cigarettes. The changes lasted for more than six weeks.
Dr Lisle says that repeated frequent consumption of these highly-rewarding foods can cause a loss of ability to “control the strong urges” to eat them and I know this happens for so many of the people who have been battling food for years before they join my programme.
We know that the more you trigger dopamine, the less impactful it will become, and the more of the food you will need to sustain the same enjoyment. I’m regularly talking about this on my Lives.
And as I also frequently say, dopamine production even starts to increase when you are looking at, smelling, hearing or thinking about food, and of course this then enhances your motivation to eat it.
The impact of Ultra Processed Food on our ability to make good decisions around food is immense. These foods literally tamper with the part of the brain that regulates our behaviours and therefore our self control.
A lot of people then feel it’s their fault that they can’t lose weight – but it’s just not true.
It’s something that’s been happening within your brain and body for many years, all because of the food you’re eating.
Ultra Processed Food and children
Over a number of years, Imperial College led a study on children which looked at the health impact of consuming ultra-processed foods. Researchers found the higher the proportion of UPFs they consumed, the greater the risk of becoming overweight or obese.
But in addition, they highlighted that eating patterns established in childhood extend into adulthood, potentially setting children on a lifelong trajectory of obesity, and a range of negative physical and mental health conditions, including cancers.
And as I said before, Slimpod helps to alter the way the reward system (dopamine) responds to Ultra Processed Food, BUT if you also commit to being more aware of what you’re eating and reduce your consumption of these addictive foods (especially sugar) you’ll be giving your brain, and your health a huge boost!
Within the programme I suggest healthier options and if you eat more whole foods or follow the Mediterranean way of eating you won’t go far wrong. But please look at this as a way of eating that’s going to improve your health and the side effect of that will be to lose weight.
If you focus on eating food to give your body the nutrition it needs to perform at its best, then you won’t go far wrong!
The difficult part about food addiction is that for some, it’s been happening for such a long time they have no idea that there’s a problem until they’ve yo-yo dieted their way through life and have ended up bigger than ever.
That’s why I created this video: