Hooked on Junk Food? New Research Shows It’s All in Your Brain

Share on:


It is no secret that high-sugar, high-fat foods are damaging to our health in numerous ways. But why is it so hard to resist gorging on donuts, fries, and candy? And to make matters worse, once you start eating junk food you crave more of it.  

You are not imagining this — and it is not your fault. According to a breakthrough study in Cell Metabolism,1 researchers from Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Cologne and Yale University have discovered that unhealthy foods rich in sugar and fat actually rewire the brain. Even small servings of these foods can spell trouble, “teaching” the brain, unconsciously, to prefer them over healthy foods like vegetables. 

Foods like chips, cookies, cake, etc. stimulate the brain’s reward and motivation center, releasing the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine.

Brain Activity Before and After Sugar and Fat

For this study, a group volunteers were given a small serving of a pudding-like milkshake high in fat and sugar for eight weeks — this was added to their regular diet. A control group consumed the same amount of milkshake but with less fat and little to no taste. Scientists measured the subject’s brain activity over the eight weeks. The brain’s response was significantly heightened in those given the sugar- and fat-laden milkshake — especially within the dopaminergic system involving reward and motivation.  

“Our measurements of brain activity showed that the brain rewires itself through the consumption of chips and [other junk food]. It subconsciously learns to prefer rewarding food. Through these changes in the brain, we will unconsciously always prefer the foods that contain a lot of fat and sugar,” says lead study author Dr. Marc Tittgemeyer. 

How to Boost Your Dopamine Levels Naturally

Brain scans show that common additive substances, such as sugar, alcohol, and recreational drugs, affect dopamine release in the brain’s reward center. Certain prescription drugs for depression work by targeting dopamine release. Regular exercise, quality sleep, and meditation are a few healthy ways to boost dopamine.  

Some research shows that magnesium supplements can help increase dopamine — magnesium deficiency is linked to lower levels of dopamine and higher risk of depression. Probiotics, vitamin D, the amino acid tyrosine, curcumin, and ginkgo, among other supplements, may also enhance dopamine function.2-6  

Chemical and Psychological Underpinnings of Sugar Cravings

Sugar cravings are a chemical response in the hypothalamus. When you eat a lot of sugar, you get a sense of dryness and of needing more. One of the tricks to combat sugar cravings is just to hydrate yourself — many times, when you drink enough water, sugar cravings will die down. Also, when you get a spike of insulin, cortisol, and adrenaline, all of which have an addictive nature, then everything drops very quickly after the spikes. This “sugar crash” is like when the effects of recreational drugs wear off — then the addict craves more.  

From a psychological perspective, high-sugar foods provide a comforting, connective feeling. “Sugar is a very sticky substance, and a craving for that stickiness, that binding action of the sugar, reflects how most people are lacking “earth energy” — a grounded connection to nature, our families, and our communities. We may not even be aware of it, but today our connection to the earth is very weak. So, we are craving the connections to the earth, to nature, to our core family, to our tribal family, our community. Sugar may come to replace it. 

Nutrients That Help Combat Sugar Cravings

Certain mineral deficiencies are associated with strong sugar cravings. Your body knows in its wisdom that when you get nourishment, you get minerals, and the quickest “nourishment” can come from sugars, because they metabolize the fastest. So, when you have a deficiency in minerals — especially chromium and zinc — you may experience a lot of sugar cravings. Supplementing with zinc and chromium picolinate often helps reduce sugar cravings.7  

Healthy foods high in zinc include oysters and shellfish, seeds, nuts (including peanuts), dairy, and eggs; beans, green beans, oats, grapes, whole grains, broccoli, and garlic are some good sources of chromium.   

The amino acid L-glutamine can help control sugar cravings when taken as a supplement as well. Also, inositol (a B vitamin) has been shown in some studies to help those with metabolic syndrome, particularly when combined with the antioxidant alpha lipoic acid.8 Even on its own, inositol is known anecdotally to take the edge off sugar cravings. 

Poor Digestion Impacts Sugar Urges

You can get sugar cravings when the body has too much of a digestive burden — i.e., when you need to digest a lot, but you don’t have enough energy to do so. This digestive weakness is often not limited to the digestive system, but also “mental digestion.” For example, if somebody must study a lot, cram for an exam, or learn a lot of math, calculus, etc., they often get cravings for sugar. As an aside, acupuncture treatments can help the sugar cravings go down, and the memory and ability to study improves.

Additional Causes

And overgrowth of certain microbes — especially candida — can trigger intense sugar cravings (the microbes demand it and signal to the brain). Also, sleep deprivation can provoke sugar cravings. 

Removing junk foods high in fat and refined sugar from your diet is difficult, especially in the beginning since your body will crave it for several days — anecdotal reports claim it takes 21 days to detoxify from junk foods. Once you turn the corner, you will notice many benefits of adopting a refined sugar–free diet — including more energy, clearer skin, brighter mood, weight loss, balanced blood sugar numbers, and enhanced mental clarity. Saying goodbye to highly processed, nutritionally empty food is one of the very best things you can do for your health and wellness.

Global Energy Healing Summit 2.0: March 28 – April 4

Click here to register for free.

While conventional medicine has made strides in treating chronic diseases, recent studies prove what our ancestors have known for centuries — the power of energy medicine. Learn about different forms of energy healing at this FREE 7-day. You will hear from 40+ of the world’s leading experts on energy medicine — including Dr. Isaac Eliaz.  

Dr. Eliaz’s talk, Day 1: “Shifting from Survival Patterns to Living from the Heart”  

Summit host Jason Prall interviews Dr. Eliaz about the mystery of our body’s innate survival drive — and explains why he thinks it is the root cause of chronic diseases. You will also be introduced to innovative (and fascinating) concepts about multigenerational energy healing. 

NeuroMetabolic Summit: April 17 – April 23

Click here to register for free.

Did you know that your brain and your metabolism are intrinsically connected — either promoting health or contributing to disease? For real, lasting relief from chronic brain, immune, gut, and hormonal symptoms, you must address both brain health and metabolic dysfunction. Learn how at this FREE summit featuring world-renowned experts — including Dr. Eliaz — in neurology, immunology, detoxification, and endocrinology. They will share the latest breakthroughs, insights, and practical solutions for solving your chronic symptoms for the last time. 

Dr. Eliaz’s talk: “Neurometabolic Survival Mechanism” 

Dr. Peter Kan interviews Dr. Eliaz about the Survival Paradox and how our bodies’ own “survival protein” can work against us, causing illness and disease. You will also hear solutions to overcoming this situation based on Dr. Eliaz’s 30+ years of medical experience.


  1. Thanarajah, S., DiFeliceantonio, A., Albus, K., et al. Habitual Daily Intake of a Sweet and Fatty Snack Modulates Reward Processing in Humans. Cell Metabolism 2023 Mar (22).
  2. Serefko, A., Szopa, A., Wlaz, P., et al. Magnesium in depression. Pharmacol Rep. 2013; 65(3):547-54.
  3. McKean, J., Naug, H., Nikbakht, E., et al. Probiotics and Subclinical Psychological Symptoms in Healthy Participants: A Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Altern Complement Med. 2017 Apr;23(4):249-258.
  4. Yoshitake, T., Yoshitake, S., and Kehr, J. The Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761 and its main constituent flavonoids and ginkgolides increase extracellular dopamine levels in the rat prefrontal cortex. B J Pharmacol. 2010 Feb;159(3);659-668.
  5. Kulkarni, S. and Dhir, A. An Overview of Curcumin in Neurological Disorders. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2010 Mar-Apr;72(2):149-154.
  6. Bertone-Johnson, E. Vitamin D and the Occurrence of Depression: Causal Association or Circumstantial Evidence? Nutr Rev. 2009 Aug; 67(8):481-492.
  7. Anton, S., Morrison, C., Cefalu, W., et al. Effects of Chromium Picolinate on Food Intake and Satiety. Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics. 2008 Oct; 10(5): 405-412
  8. Capassa, I., Esposito, E., Maurea, N., et al. Combination of inositol and alpha lipoid acid in metabolic syndrome-affected women: a randomized placebo-controlled trail. Trials. 2013 Aug 28;(14): 273.

Upcoming Events

Cancer Breakthroughs Summit 2.0
LIVE with Dr. Eliaz | Summer Series Book Club | The Survival Paradox Part Three
Hawaii Open Heart Medicine and Healing Retreat with Dr. Eliaz

Recent Posts

Your Cart
Your cart is empty
Payment plan details

Payment plan consists of 3 installments and includes a $300 upcharge per registrant. The 1st installment is due upon purchase, the 2nd installment will be charged automatically to the card on file 30 days from initial payment and the 3rd installment will be changed 60 days from initial payment.

Payment Plan is available through June 1st.

Please note that the payment plan option is only available for the retreat itself. Any add-ons will be due along with the initial retreat payment and registration.

Payment Plan Breakdown

Three installments of $1765 each

Three installments of $2996 each ($1498 per registrant)

Extended Daily Rate for Add-On Dates to Retreat

* Daily rate is exclusive of taxes and resort experience fee.

Applicable to these dates only (supplies are limited)

Sunday, September 15th SOLD OUT
Monday, September 16th
Saturday, September 21st
Sunday, September 22nd SOLD OUT

Daily Rate: $499*

Total Rate: $645.23
Room G.E.T. Tax 4.71% / Room T.A.T. Tax 13.25%

Fees Details
The daily resort experience fee of $48 plus tax includes self-parking, internet access, wellness & cultural classes, shuttle bus service, lei greeting, 1 branded reusable water bottle per registered guest, snorkle rental (one hour/day), and local & domestic long distance calls.

Is your body's survival response working against you?

Download book excerpt

By submitting this form you are agreeing to receive email communications from Dr. Eliaz