When food is a drug (what should we do)
People who have difficulty sticking to diets show brain activity similar to that seen in drug addicts in response to certain foods a report shows.
According to the report in the Archives of General Psychiatry (US), people with an addictive-like eating behaviour appear to have greater neural activity in certain regions of the brain similar to substance dependence, including elevated activation in reward circuitry in response to food cues.
The authors explain that “One-third of American adults are now obese and obesity-related disease is the second leading cause of preventable death. Unfortunately, most obesity treatments do not result in lasting weight loss because most patients regain their lost weight within five years.”
In response to cues signaling impending delivery of a highly palatable food (chocolate milkshake) vs. a tasteless control solution; and consumption of a chocolate milkshake vs. a tasteless solution. The study included 48 healthy young women ranging from lean to obese recruited for a healthy weight maintenance trial.
Brain scans showed that for some of the group, the high fat and high sugar food triggered greater activation in certain areas of the brain, those associated with the brain’s reward system.
Food advertising and the availability of cheap, tasty but unhealthy foods may make it extremely difficult to stick to healthier food choices because of our hard-wired desire to want to consume more of these foods. The ability to make conscious healthy choices may also be affected by the brain’s own reward system.
The study could help to explain why some people ‘eat to live’ while others ‘live to eat’.
Source: McCaffery JM, Haley AP, Sweet LH, et al. Differential functional magnetic resonance imaging response to food pictures in successful weight-loss maintainers relative to normal-weight and obese controls. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vol. 90, No. 4, 928-934, October 2009