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The Science Behind Why You Crave Sugar When You're Stressed (VIDEO)

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It can happen fast. One minute, you're indulging in a small piece of chocolate; the next, you're surrounded by empty candy wrappers -- and still craving more. The cycle of unhealthy eating can be a vicious one, but registered dietician Rebecca Scritchfield says there's a simple way to stop it before it gets out of hand.

Speaking with #OWNSHOW about unhealthy eating habits, Scritchfield points to one particular ingredient that tends to enhance rather than satisfy our cravings: sugar.

"Sugar actually lights up the pleasure and reward center of our brain, the same way if someone's giving you a smile or a mother-and-child bond, even falling in love," Scritchfield explains in the above video. "So, it makes perfect sense [that] when we eat sugar, we want more of it."

Your initial craving for sugar, she says, begins when you start to feel stressed. "When we're stressed out, we have a high level of a hormone called cortisol, and we crave sugar because if we eat some sugar, we will actually get another hormone called serotonin, which is calming and relaxing," Scritchfield says. "It's just our body's way of taking a chill pill."

But what about artificial sugar? Does it satisfy or just make you crave the real thing? Scritchfield says the jury's still out.

"In some studies, they're showing, look, if you eat foods with artificial sweeteners, you're expecting to get sugar, [and] when you don't get it, you're not satisfied, so you just want more," she says. "But then other researchers refute that... I think it's more of a personal preference."

As for her own personal preference, Scritchfield opts for the real thing. "I'm all for regular sugar," she says with a smile. "But in moderation."

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Filed by Lisa Capretto