Indulging in food cravings could be more than just a matter of a weak will. After studying the brain activity of women presented with a chocolate milk shake, researchers in the US have found that seeing the tempting dessert drink activated the same parts of the brain as a drug- addict who sees cocaine.
The Yale University study found that higher food addiction scores correlated with greater activation in certain areas of the brain — the same areas that light up among people with a substance dependence.
Participants included 48 healthy young women ranging from lean to obese. They were presented with both a chocolate milk shake and a tasteless control solution. Milk shakes were chosen not only for their high fat and sugar content, but also because it allowed participants to keep still during head scans.
“If food cues take on enhanced motivational properties in a manner analogous to drug cues, efforts to change the current food environment may be critical to successful weight loss and prevention efforts,” reads the study. “Ubiquitous food advertising and the availability of inexpensive palatable foods may make it extremely difficult to adhere to healthier food choices because the omnipresent food cues trigger the reward system.”
Researchers from The Scripps Research Institute in Florida came to similar conclusions last year when they found that over-consumption of high-calorie foods can trigger addiction-like responses in the brain. The study, which used lab rats, could help in understanding obesity as a food addiction and in developing therapies for it, researchers said.
Though compulsive eaters can do little to avoid fast-food billboard ads around their city or commercials on TV, they can change the food environment at home. For example, keep less food at home than usual to avoid temptation. Keeping the house junk food-free also eliminates visual cues.