The idea of food addiction was once scoffed at, but recent studies seem to suggest that what we eat can affect our neural chemistry. This is because certain items high in sugar and fat seem to trigger the release of a chemical known as dopamine in the brain. When released, it makes one feel happy and activates our biological reward system. Although studies are still in the early stages of testing, much of the accumulated evidence seems to show that an addiction with certain foods is very similar to other, better studied addictions. In this post we will touch upon the most currently researched area in this topic, which is the relationship between fat and dopamine.
There have been a few experiments in recent years which have tried to find out if certain fatty foods can cause addiction. In April of 2012, the Oregon Research Institute conducted a study which examined the brain activity of individuals who frequently consumed ice cream. The result was that when given a milkshake, participants saw a diminished dopamine response much in the same way drug addicts do when they need higher doses of a substances to achieve the same high. Another study published in 2010 by Nature Neuroscience fed rats different amounts of high fat foods to see how their brain activity would change. One group was allowed to eat these as much as they wanted, and another was only allowed to consume them a limited portion of the day. The control group was given a regular diet of non-human food, which was also available to the two other non-control groups. The rats which were allowed to eat as much fat as they wanted quickly grew tired of the normal feed, and stopped eating it completely. But even when the choice of eating unhealthy was taken away, this group of test animals refused to eat standard rat food for an average of 14 days. As for the rats that consumed high fat foods only for a limited portion of the day, researchers found that 66% of their daily calories were being derived solely from this source. That essentially means that when given the option, these animals were binge eating in order to consume as much of this unhealthy feed as possible.
As we mentioned before, research into this topic is still very limited, and most of the studies up to now have solely been done on animals. It is perhaps fair to say that at this point it is too early to decide whether food addiction is an actual phenomenon. Nonetheless, from preliminary evidence we can tell that consumables high in fat content do at some level influence human brain chemistry; and not in a positive manner either. This should make us at the very least wary of consuming foods such as these, which we already know are capable of causing multiple physical health problems. Now with scientist conducting more research into fat, we also see that they can possibly have a negative effect on us psychologically as well.
If one does believe they are addicted to a certain foods, how do they stop their obsessive tendencies to eat unhealthy? Unfortunately, it requires a great deal of willpower and self-disciple from the individual to slowly start removing certain foods from their diet. We recommend for example if you’re used to eating ice cream every day, start by lessening the amount you eat until the point that you can substitute it for a healthier dessert, such as yogurt. Overtime your taste buds will begin to adjust, so that they are used to less fat in their meals. Proper nutrition as usual is the key here, but it requires that the individual is willing to work on eating habits in order to break their addictions.