It’s often said that if you eat less sugar for a while your taste buds will change, so that the sugary stuff you used to love becomes much too sweet. But it’s not the taste buds themselves that change; what changes is your brain’s interpretation of the messages coming from the taste buds.
If you were raised on sugar (as I was) and then ate sugar, daily, for decades (as I once did), your brain has already made its adaptations to that, becoming habituated to the higher caloric density. For example, sugary chocolate has some 2,500 calories per pound, as compared to 100 calories per pound of lettuce! This habituation (which is also regarded as tolerance or neuro-adaptation) is a defining characteristic of addiction.
Of course, you may not have ever thought about it in these terms. All you know is you love sugary treats! They’re exciting! And vegetables seem so drab in comparison they’re barely worth the bother. The neuro-adaptation means that whenever you eat unhealthy things you perceive them as a positive, while healthy foods register as negative, or neutral at best.
This is a matter of degree, which varies from person to person. Many people eat their ‘real food’ meals with the promise of a treat after they’ve finished the boring stuff. Or maybe the meal itself includes sugar; beans on toast or pizza for example. Or, they eat healthy food to lose weight, returning to the preferred sugary carbs once the goal is achieved… thereby regaining the weight lost.
The question is how to make changes you can live with, so the changes last. This is where it can get tricky, so let’s learn about neuro-adaptation from an example that has nothing to do with food or addiction.