Photo: Wurth_Skidder, Flickr
We toss around the word "addicted" a lot when it comes to food: "I'm addicted to chocolate," or "I'm addicted to cheese fries." So should it really come as a surprise that maybe some of us really are addicted to our favorite foods?
This according to a study published this week in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Researchers took a sample of about 40 women ranging in weight and scanned their brains as they were tempted with the promise of either a tasty chocolate milkshake or a "calorie-free tasteless solution" (which sounds like water to us).
What they found were that parts of the brain that have previously been associated with drug and alcohol addiction were also activated in the women who were anticipating the shake. These areas were even more active in participants who scored high on tests measuring their level of "food addiction."
"If certain foods are addictive, this may partially explain the difficulty people experience in achieving sustainable weight loss," the study's authors, led by Ashley Gearhardt of Yale University, wrote.
They go on to note that it's not only the omnipresence of inexpensive, mouthwatering treats that may make such addictive impulses difficult to control, but the fact that we're bombarded with delicious imagery of food as well. It's possible that all those commercials showing the slow, tantalizing scoop of "rich, creamy" ice cream or the golden bubbly ooze of melted cheese on pizza could trigger the brain's reward response system as well.
The implications seem to be that for those who have trouble losing weight, the answer may not lie so much in the next fad diet as in something that more resembles Alcoholics Anonymous. As one researcher who was not involved in the study but who has also examined addictive behavior notes: "For food addicts, addiction treatment is more logical than current treatments that they have to choose from."