The Lenten season is upon us and that means abstaining from something as a form of sacrifice.
And if you have a sweet tooth, then giving up sweets for Lent might be a good way to start. But if you do decide on that path, here’s what you can expect over the next 40 days.
First and foremost, we need to understand why sugar has become so addictive. In neuroscience, food is considered a “natural reward.” It’s part of our survival instinct that things like sex, eating, and nurturing others should be pleasurable to the brain so that we keep doing them.
And nothing induces pleasure in the brain more than sugar.
Unfortunately, nowadays most processed and prepared foods have added sugars for flavor, preservation, or both. And these sugars that manage to sneak their way into our bodies hijack the brain’s reward pathway. And this is how addictive behavior results.
And like most drugs that have a tendency to be abused, one needs more and more sugar to achieve the same “sugar high” because the body slowly adapts to the effects of sugar.
Having established that sugar is addictive in the same way that illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin are, it’s useful to take a look at the four major components of addiction, namely: binging , withdrawal, craving, and cross-sensitisation (the notion that being addicted to one substance makes one more likely to be addicted to another). In animal studies, these four stages have been observed for sugar as well as drugs of abuse.
What does this mean then for a person who decides to forego sugar entirely?
A 2002 study by Carlo Colantuoni and his colleagues at Princeton University had rats undergo a typical sugar dependence protocol before subjecting them to “sugar withdrawal.” This was done either by food deprivation or by administering doses of naloxone, a drug used in the treatment of opiate addiction.
Both methods of withdrawal led to physical problems that included teeth chattering, paw tremors, and head shaking. Naloxone also seemed to make the rats more anxious.
Other withdrawal experiments of a similar nature also reported behavior similar to depression when performing tasks such as the forced swim test. Rats experiencing sugar withdrawal were more inclined to passive behavior (like floating) than active behavior (such as trying to escape).
So, are you still willing to give up sugar for Lent?
The choice need not seem so grim. There have been countless articles and books that describe the new-found happiness of being sugar free for good.
Of course, it helps to be aware of the trials that one will face in that journey.
As it applies to humans, everyone is different and no human studies have been done on this. But considering that it’s Lent, then look at the onset of cravings and side-effects as merely one more trial that you have to face in the practice of your faith.
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