Today’s food landscape is rife with quick, cheap access to sugar whenever we are craving it — and even when we aren’t. Grocery and convenience stores are stocked with cookies, candy, sugary beverages and other sweet snacks strategically placed at the checkout prompting unhealthy impulse buys.
Vending machines dispense sugary sodas and pastries to beat your 3 p.m. slump, and every office seems to offer donuts for breakfast. In a sugar-saturated world, it can seem impossible to curb those nagging cravings for sweets — because they’re everywhere!
Even after a satisfying meal, sugar cravings can hit you hard. One explanation of this feeling is hedonic hunger — or eating for pleasure rather than for satisfaction. Researchers are still trying to figure out why this happens, but before we take the first bite, the sight of a sugary or fatty food causes the brain’s reward circuit to get excited.
Once the sweet treat hits your tastebuds, signals are fired off to the brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that causes an intense feeling of pleasure. Overeating sugary foods not only floods the brain with dopamine, but also creates a pattern of sugar cravings. In a short amount of time, the brain starts to crave more sugar and fat to reach the same threshold of pleasure it once got from small amounts of these pleasure-inducing foods.