The Science of Sugar: Appetite, Eating Disorders, and the Reward System

Everyone is born with a natural liking for the sweetness associated with sugars. But as you get older, you learn that there’s such a thing as having too much sugar in your diet. Even with that knowledge, understanding natural sugars and added sugars in the foods you eat is not always that simple. But it all begins with understanding the science of sugar.

The role of sugar in your diet

Sugars are simply carbohydrates – the primary source of energy in your diet. No matter the type of sugar, they are all broken down into monosaccharides and absorbed in your bloodstream to provide energy to your cells. Excess sugars are stored for later use. Nutritionists usually caution against excessive sugar intake because it can cause health issues such as diabetes, weight gain, and tooth decay.


Did you know that excessive sugar and junk food can potentially muddle your brain’s satiety-control mechanism and send your appetite into hyper-drive? Well, eating for the sake of pleasure rather than survival isn’t something new, and scientists are revealing how certain foods, particularly sugars and fats, can alter your brain’s chemistry in a way that drives you to consume more (hedonic hunger).

Such cravings are a powerful desire for certain foods, even when your body doesn’t need them. It is the yearning experience when your stomach is full, but your brain is ravenous. Most nutritionists and researchers believe that hedonic hunger for sugar and junk food is one of the top contributors to surging obesity rates today.

Eating disorders

Many people find extreme pleasure and comfort in eating foods packed with sugars, particularly junk food. However, some of them would feel miserable emotionally and physically afterward. Or the fear of weight gain would kick in, and they end up succumbing to bulimic tendencies to try to rid their bodies of the excess sugars and probably feel ‘in control.’

If not done right, the process of ridding your body of excess calories (from sugar-packed foods) would engage improper eating practices that could be harmful to your health – eating disorders. These are simply eating behaviors often motivated by unhealthy expectations, beliefs, and perceptions concerning sugar consumption, weight management, eating, and physical body appearance.

The reward system

Your brain reward system, especially the dopamine receptors, are activated by sugar and other highly palatable foods in much the same way as morphine and heroine affect your brain. To a lesser extent, the dopamine rush associated with ingesting sugar is pleasurable and addictive for some people. This is one of the main reasons almost all binge eating foods are highly palatable, especially items high in sugar and high in fat.

Wrap up

Your body needs sugar, but keeping an eye on your overall sugar intake is a great idea. With moderation, you will realize that weight management has become easier. But if you still find the science of sugar still mystifying, consult with a nutritionist or your doctor.