Are you sucked into the pleasure trap by food that isn’t food at all?

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:

ultra processed food

Ultra Processed Food – live tonight

I’ll be talking about the effects of UPF on my Live tonight on our main Slimpod for weight loss page tonight (July 13) at 7.30pm UK time AND also in Slimpod Club at 8pm UK time tomorrow (July 14).

On our main page, do hit the Like and Share buttons and it will then notify you when I’m live.  Also please connect with me on Instagram – I’d love to see you over there if you’re on that platform.

PLEASE leave a comment below to let me know what you think. Note that all comments are moderated before being published so they may not appear straight away.

7 thoughts on “Are you sucked into the pleasure trap by food that isn’t food at all?”

  1. I truly agree that its so difficult at times to get balance as there are so many artificial stimuli in our foods. How on earth can this be simple, it really can’t can it?

  2. It’s scary to think that what I consider “normal “ food ie seeded bread is UPF food !
    It’s a mine field !????????‍♀️

  3. It’s incredible just how many foods this is included in it certainly pays to read the small print . Very helpful thank you

  4. I couldn’t agree more, I was just thinking about this today. I noticed that I have a behavioural issue around coming home from work. This links back to coming home from school ( secondary). I always used to binge after school.. I was bullied at school and had a authoritative father , so I pushed the feelings inside. This behaviour has followed into my adult life. Something I have only realised since slimpod. My drug of choice is sweet carbs, I don’t smoke or drink so chocolate is my vice. I’m an addict and a nurse. I understand the physiology of what damage it can do. I need to retrain my behaviour. Thank you team .. with you I believe I can do it.

  5. Joyce Fairchild

    I am totally in agreement l lost a stone last year and have just put it back on I cannot eat any sugar as it takes me about 2 weeks to stop the cravings so will start all over again. Thanks for reinforcing this

  6. it has only been in Slimpod that I have worked out how much of me was addicted to
    sweet stuff. And having got the idea I can stop it. But I have had to give up the things i thought I was addicted to. I have found it has been just better to keep away.

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About Sandra
Founder of Thinking Slimmer
Food addiction expert
Member of All-Party Parliamentary Obesity Group
Huffington Post contributor
DipCHyp HPD NLP MasterPrac
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