Sour results of a sweet addiction

Estelle Ellis

DESPERATE to lose weight but just can’t let go of those fizzy drinks, cookies, chocolates? You might, literally, be addicted to sugar.

This week, while speaking at the sixth World Conference of Paediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery, the ever-controversial Prof Tim Noakes spoke out about what he calls sugar addiction saying it is essential for obese people to beat this first. Sugar addiction includes an addiction to carbohydrates like bread, potatoes and pasta.

Noakes, who is a professor at UCT’s department of exercise and sports science, blamed the US Drug Administration for the increase in obesity globally by increasing the amount of carbohydrates in its recommended diet.

“But what we want is less carbs, more fat…. Coke and Pepsi are weapons of mass destruction,” Noakes said.

“Diet is more important for body weight than physical activity. You need to remove food addictions.” He added that exercise does lower mortality rate but said the first priority is for obese people to treat their “addiction to carbohydrates”.

Noakes is part of the team that just launched Harmony Eating and Lifestyle Programme (Help) in October last year to help sugar addicts. His partners in the venture are well-known nutritionist Rael Koping, and Steven and Karen Thomson of Harmony Addictions Clinic.

The programme is run on an in-patient basis from a clinic in Houtbay and proposes to treat sugar addiction through diet and exercise with biokineticist and former NMMU and Rhodes student, Janelle van Onselen assisting the team.

During the launch of Help, Koping said: “Research into substance addiction has shown that individuals react differently to drugs and alcohol. Some people have a genetic predisposition to addiction. Scans of the brain have shown which areas of brain tissue are activated when stimulated by drugs.

“Recent research has shown that some people’s brains respond similarly to carbohydrate meals. This indicates that, for some people, carbohydrate foods have psychotropic properties. Help treats carbohydrate addiction as a substance addiction, as opposed to an eating disorder. By maintaining a low carb diet, patients find it easier to stay in remission and restore their health.”

The clinic approach includes changes to dietary habits, exercise, and trauma work, plus psychological and spiritual counselling.

In his recent state of the nation address, President Jacob Zuma referred to the obesity epidemic in South Africa, saying that the government “has to combat and lower the levels of smoking, harmful effects of alcohol, poor diets and obesity”.

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