Are the three white powders ruining our civilization? Or is the screaming a bit overblown?

Nope, I’m not talking about heroin or cocaine or meth.  I’m talking about flour (gluten) salt and sugar.  And it seems like you can’t open a magazine or newspaper or newsfeed without another article warning us of the dangers of these killer substances and reminding us that they are “almost as bad as smoking” or “as bad as smoking” (which is the current gold standard for health-based fear mongering).

Sugar in particular has come under a lot of fire.  In case you missed any of the hysteria, just google “sugar is evil” and see what you get.  You’ll undoubtedly see a link to the film “Fed Up” Produced by David Laurie (who also produced “An Inconvenient Truth”) and hosted by Katie Couric.  Which claims that the processed food industries are to blame for getting us to love sugar and that we have literally no control over ourselves when it comes to the substance.  And you might see a link to “Sugar: The Bitter Truth”–a 90 minute video by pediatric hormone and childhood obesity expert Robert Lustig.

That’s why I was so pleased and relieved to come across a blog post by my friend and colleague Dr. Jon Robison which helps us all calm down a little when it comes to sugar.  He quickly cuts through a lot of the hype and helps us find our way.

I’m not going to summarize the whole article, because I think it would be better if you just read it for yourself.  It’s not especially long and it’s quite entertaining.  But I would love to highlight a few things to pique your interest.

One topic area that Jon covers is the notion that sugar is an empty calorie.  Folks there are all different kinds of sugar out there.  And while Jon doesn’t specifically cover this in his post, I can tell you that breast milk contains a fair amount of sugar (it’s sweeter than cow’s milk) and nearly all docs on the planet believe that breast milk is one of the best substances on earth for getting kids started in the world.  There are no empty calories.  All calories have nutritional value of some sort or another.  Some may help the body in ways that others do not.  But all calories are fuel and can keep the body from starvation.

Another idea Jon discusses is that sugar is an addiction.  Jon does a terrific job of blowing this idea away.  A lot of the rhetoric around sugar as an addiction centers around the notion that the sugar stimulates some of the same sections of the brain that are stimulated by another white powder (cocaine).  On the surface this sounds damning and dramatic (and makes great internet clickbait).  But as Robison points out, there are lots of other things that light up those same pleasure centers in the brain like music, a mother recognizing the face of her child, and falling in love.

Well you might as well face it…

Finally, Robison concludes the post in talking about sugar addiction and binge eating disorder.  Many people have pointed to binge eating disorder as proof that food is addictive:

Binge Eating Disorder (BED). BED is the most common of all eating disorders, affecting some 3.5% of women and 2.0% of men in the United States. It is defined this way by the Binge Eating Disorder Association:

“Also called compulsive eating, emotional eating or overeating, binge eating disorder is characterized by recurring episodes of binge eating, feeling out of control while bingeing, and feeling guilt and shame afterward.’

But the problem of using the addiction model for binge eating disorder comes largely from the “cure” which in many cases can make the problem even worse.  Typically in addiction models, we seek to eliminate that to which we are addicted (alcohol, drugs, cigarettes).  Although there are some models that use medications to block the euphoria response from certain substances, the vast majority of treatments advocate abstinence.

However, we cannot abstain from food.  And despite the efforts made by programs like “Sugar Busters” and “Overeaters Anonymous” the research shows that abstaining from certain foods (processed sugar) simply makes binge eating disorder worse.

I think if we are addicted to anything in this country, it’s overwrought, hand wringing panic about any new health scare.  I’m glad, people like Jon help us to overcome this particular addiction with sane writing and thinking.

Love, Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. Want me to talk about overblown health scares at your school, organization or club? Go here for more info on booking me!

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2 thoughts on “Are the three white powders ruining our civilization? Or is the screaming a bit overblown?

  1. Jennifer Hansen

    …I’m a completely uneducated person in this regard and even I know that the cure for alcoholism is not not-drinking. It’s figuring out what triggers the bingeing and working on that.

    To go back to rats, who was it who pointed out that rats put in a little metal box with a thingie of water and a thingie of water with dope in it will go for the dope, but the same rats in a rat colony with stuff to do and somewhere comfortable to get away from the (heh) rat race will drink the plain water instead?

    Reply
  2. GlenysO

    Couldn’t agree more with this! Food-fear-mongering is one of my biggest pet peeves! I have literally kept people alive in the hospital on not much more than sugar (nutritional supplements) when they have no appetite and are critically ill. They recover and go on to eat normal food again.

    Also agree about the abstinence model not working for BED treatment. The problem may already be related to restriction – restricting even more isn’t going to make it better. When they’ve figured out that food restriction (in absence of calorie restriction) leads rats to binge on highly palatable rat chow (aka rat ice cream), it’s obvious that restricting sugar isn’t going to make anyone a normal eater. Thanks for this insightful post!!

    Reply

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