Are You Addicted to Certain Foods?  

Do you wonder why sometimes, despite trying to maintain iron willpower, you still end up craving and eating things that you shouldn’t? Media tells you it’s because you’re stressed, but that’s not the whole story. There are many highly stressed individuals who don’t display any food cravings, who have hardly any time to eat. And there plenty of couch potatoes who could devour endless piles of comfort foods within minutes.

A recent press release from the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology describes a study that looked at brain function and addiction. The researchers analysed 39 obese people and 42 normal weight people.  They were given a buffet-style meal and told to help themselves. Afterwards, they were shown photos of the food from the buffet to stimulate cravings while their brains were scanned via MRI. The MRI scans showed different brain connectivity for food cravings depending on whether the individual was normal weight or overweight.

In other words, the brains of overweight individuals have different wiring characterised by far greater connectivity in the areas of the brain associated with reward. These parts of the brain are stimulated in a similar way to substance abuse.

Opioids & Different Ways of Experiencing Hunger

There are two types of hunger: “stomach hunger” and “craving hunger” and they work completely differently in the body. Stomach hunger is rather simple. Once the body has used up whatever food source it previously had, the hormone ghrelin tells the hypothalamus to start making neuropeptide Y which causes an appetite. Craving hunger however is much different. Fattening sugary foods contain opioids which give us the feeling of pleasure or even mild euphoria. When cravings hit, the hippocampus and the caudate nucleus light up. The hippocampus is in charge of long-term and short-term memory. The caudate nucleus regulates the dopamine reward system within the brain. So one could say that cravings are a person remembering how good a certain food made them feel and the body’s way of saying it wants to feel that way again. Addiction works in a very similar way and this could explain why the urge to eat whatever you are craving is so strong.

You might have a food addiction but you’re not doomed!

Breaking bad habits such as sugary foods (and drinks) may not come easy, but don’t give up.  You’ll just have to be patient with yourself and find lots of healthy alternatives to unhealthy foods that you may be hard-wired to crave.

Also, remember DOPAMINE and its feel-good effect? This neurotransmitter is also connected with the body’s reward mechanism. So next time, instead of reaching out for that packet of crisps, consider engaging in some dopamine-producing activities that I recommended in my article on CURIOSITY, PRODUCTIVITY AND LIFESPAN. You might totally forget about that packet of crisps & feel much better as a result!

For a more in-depth analysis of FOOD ADDICTION, read this article.

Acknowledgements

The ECNP (European College of Neuropsychopharmacology) is an independent scientific association dedicated to the science and treatment of disorders of the brain. It is the largest non-institutional supporter of applied and translational neuroscience research and education in Europe. Discover more about ECNP here.