Women with weight problems were more impulsive than average in a food-related psychology test, a new research paper has shown. This suggested that they are more instinctively stimulated by images of food as well as lacking contemplative will power. Further, some women reported food craving even if they had eaten recently, a symptom of possible food addiction.
“All addictions are similar in that the sufferer craves to excess the feel-good buzz they receive from chemical neurotransmitters produced when they eat, gamble, smoke, have sex or take drugs,” commented Claus Voegele, Professor of Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Luxembourg.
In this original test, images of fatty or sweet food (a burger, cake, pizza etc.) and non-food items (a sock, a mug, a shoe etc.) were flashed at random on a computer screen. The women were instructed to click as fast as possible on either the food or non-food pictures. The women with weight problems performed less well than the average.
Tests were run either three hours after eating or just after meals. The researchers found that several women with weight problems said the test had provoked food craving, regardless of how recently they had eaten. “This suggests that some people may have an instinctive, psychological predisposition to binge eating,” Prof. Voegele said.
The idea that a person can be addicted to food has recently gotten more support from science.
Experiments in animals and humans show that, for some people, the same reward and pleasure centers of the brain that are triggered by addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin are also activated by food, especially highly palatable foods. Highly palatable foods are foods rich in:
Like addictive drugs, highly palatable foods trigger feel-good brain chemicals such as dopamine. Once people experience pleasure associated with increased dopamine transmission in the brain’s reward pathway from eating certain foods, they quickly feel the need to eat again.
The reward signals from highly palatable foods may override other signals of fullness and satisfaction. As a result, people keep eating, even when they’re not hungry.
People who show signs of food addiction may also develop a tolerance to food. They eat more and more, only to find that food satisfies them less and less.
Scientists believe that food addiction may play an important role in obesity. But normal-weight people may also struggle with food addiction. Their bodies may simply be genetically programmed to better handle the extra calories they take in. Or they may increase their physical activity to compensate for overeating.
People who are addicted to food will continue to eat despite negative consequences, such as weight gain or damaged relationships. And like people who are addicted to drugs or gambling, people who are addicted to food will have trouble stopping their behavior, even if they want to or have tried many times to cut back.
He pointed to other research which indicates both nature and nurture are at the root of this condition. “People may over-eat to comfort themselves, because they are bored or just out of habit,” he said. At the other end of the spectrum, those with excessive control may suffer disorders such as anorexia nervosa.
What is Food Addiction?
Food addiction is, quite simply, being addicted to junk food in the same way as drug addicts are addicted to drugs.
It involves the same areas in the brain, the same neurotransmitters and many of the symptoms are identical (1).
Food addiction is a relatively new (and controversial) term and there are no good statistics available on how common it is.
This is very similar to several other eating disorders, including binge eating disorder, bulimia, compulsive overeating and having an “unhealthy” relationship with food.
How This Works
Processed junk foods have a powerful effect on the “reward” centers in the brain, involving brain neurotransmitters like dopamine.
The foods that seem to be the most problematic include typical “junk foods,” as well as foods that contain either sugar or wheat, or both.
Food addiction is not about a lack of willpower or anything like that, it is caused by the intense dopamine signal “hijacking” the biochemistry of the brain.
There are many studies that support the fact that food addiction is a real problem.
University of Luxembourg