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December 17, 2018

The 2 Addictions we’re all Guilty of Having.

We all know that sugar and social media are concerns when it comes to raising healthy kids.

But are we aware of the link between sugar and social media and what they are specifically doing to our brain chemistry?

To be even more specific, do we realize we are setting up the next generation to become serious drug addicts?

Unfortunately, I’m an expert on this subject because I have been an addict since childhood. Sugar was my first drug of choice, and this led me to a serious eating disorder. I was dieting by 10 years of age—binging on candy, cookies, and ice cream whenever possible, and then anorexic and stealing my brother’s diet pills by 16.

This should have been a huge sign that my brain chemistry was unbalanced and I needed serious help. But this was the 1970s.

Fortunately, science has now proven that processed sugar affects the brain in many toxic ways, and the more we eat it, the worse these effects get. Evidence suggests that sugar acts on the brain in ways similar to well-known addictive substances like alcohol and drugs, where both the opioid (natural pain relief) system and dopamine pathways are affected, which can cause serious neurophysiological and structural damage.

Basically, when we eat sugar, our brain lights up in the same areas as an alcoholic—releasing dopamine for pleasure and serotonin for calmness. With excess sugar consumption, your insulin shoots up and then drops, leaving you craving more. Then the vicious cycle begins—sugar intake leads to wicked cravings and withdrawal, which then lead to a whole onslaught of destructive behaviors.

My sugar addiction set me up to become the perfect binge drinker. After years of dieting, I was really good at starving myself. And it didn’t take me long to learn how effective drinking on an empty stomach was. Oh, the insanity!

By now you are probably wondering what social media has to do with all of this. Well, the impact on our dopamine receptors caused by sugar is exactly what happens in our brain when we get that “feel-good boost” when someone “likes” our Instagram post or tweet.

The problem is that if you do too much social media, it’s like eating too much sugar—it screws up your brain chemistry. You become addicted to all of the attention that a good photo receives, you get depressed if your texts appear to be ignored, and, ultimately, this messes with your brain.

An addiction is any behavior (not just drug use) that individuals cannot stop doing, despite harmful consequences, because it provides them with some relief or pleasure. Remember, dopamine is the “reward center” of our brain, and any time we mess with our pain/pleasure receptors, we are asking for trouble.

The amazing news is that there is a solution because science has proven the theory of neuroplasticity, which means we can change or fix our brains with proper nutrition, positive thinking, and changes in lifestyle.

Yes, we have the power to heal ourselves, and we are not destined to live a life with an addiction or bad brain.

So, this is what we need to do:

  1. Moderate our sugar consumption. At the same time, we must ensure the proper intake of healthy fats, good protein, and lots of fruit and vegetables. Our kids need to learn that our minds and bodies will not work without adequate nutrition—just like a car won’t operate without gasoline. It’s as simple as that!
  2. Change our thinking. We need to eliminate toxic thoughts and create new, healthy thinking patterns, thereby changing the structure of the brain.
  3. Social support is crucial if we want our kids to learn how to manage their emotions and lead their best life. Healthy relationships help children deal with the challenges they face. When they realize that they do not face things alone, they see their difficulties in a different light. Moreover, in a community-focused society, warning signs can be picked up earlier and help can be provided before destructive behaviors escalate. Boy, do I wish someone had seen the signs before my reckless self-medicating took hold.
  4. Love starts in the family unit. It is vital for parents or guardians to constantly tell and show their children that they are loved and accepted. Eating together is incredibly therapeutic. Regular family meals are associated with a decreased risk for addictive behavior and depression, and higher self-esteem. And definitely, put down the gadgets—absolutely no social media at the dinner table!
  5. The next step is in the school and workplace. Teachers, professors, and managers must be trained to identify the early signs of addiction and provide adequate support for troubled individuals.
  6. Health care professionals—doctors and counselors—must emphasize the critical importance of nutrition. Medications and talk therapy will have minimal impact if the patient’s underlying brain chemistry is screwed up.

On a personal note, I am doing really well, as healing my brain has been my number one priority in recent months. After years of unhealthy dieting, brutal addictive behaviors, and “stinking thinking,” I have infinite room for improvement.

I am so up for the challenge and can’t wait to see how great my brain can become.

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author: Wendy Wakefield

Image: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

Editor: Kelsey Michal