The Science of Food Addiction

When those “fast-food Nazis,” as many people love to call them, run around comparing high-sugar, high-calorie, high-fat foods to cocaine and heroin, the layperson’s reaction is almost always the same – they become a little befuddled by the comparison and wonder how eating a cheeseburger can be nearly as addictive as tooting a line of hard drugs.

The skepticism in fast food addiction is not only warranted, however, it’s actually needed. The truth of the matter is that organic industries stand to gain a lot of money should government start to regulate fast food restaurants. So seeking out the evidence and proving that junk food is addictive is something every individual should do instead of simply blindly believing what they’re told via some advocate. You just never know where a person stands or what that person stands to gain.

The research is out there, though, and it shows that scientists have long proven links between drug addiction and fast-food addiction, at least in lab rats. And while there are glaring differences between a human’s brain and a rat’s brain, our little rodent friends have been reliable through their involuntary tenure, helping us combat disease and develop a better understanding of how the mind works. Needless to say, if it’s happening in rats, it is likely happening in humans.

A New Groundbreaking Study

Last March, Nature Neuroscience published a study by the Scripps Research Institute that directly likened the affects of eating fast food to the affects of ingesting heroin or cocaine. The similarities come via the brain’s pleasure center – an area that releases a slew of hormones and compounds that make us “feel good.” In rats, the feel-good behavior was apparent by how they acted and interacted.

According to the associated professor of molecular therapeutics at the Scripps Research Institute, Dr. Paul H. Kenny, the brain’s pleasure centers become overloaded and the rats need to ingest more high-caloric, high-sugar, fat-laden food to simply feel “normal.” Hence addiction.

To cut out the scientific jargon and to put it simply: The brain changes when too much junk food is consumed. In order to feel normal, the brain must be “high” on its usual overload of fats, carbs and calories. The stimulating affect is chased; it is needed, and thus addiction is born.

At the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, researchers also found that a diet high in substances found in fast food can cause the body of rats to stop producing leptin, a vital hormone that helps to regulate eating habits. In other words, the more the rats eat and the fatter the rats get, the hungrier they feel and the more they continue to eat.

A Comparison of Addictions

Even with the vast amount of research completed by some of the nation’s leading scientists in their respective field, it is extremely difficult to convince the common person of fast food’s addictive qualities. Outside of those usually susceptible to scaremongering, not many individuals are listening to the hard evidence.

For a common sense angle on it all, let’s take a look at addiction.

Drug Addiction Symptoms

  • An urge to use the drug regularly, either daily or more frequently
  • An inability to break free from the drug
  • Keeping a supply of the drug on hand
  • Spending money for the drug, even if you cannot afford to
  • Working to obtain the drug, even going out of your way at times
  • A feeling that the drug will “help” you
  • Focusing time and energy on the drug

If you think about it, you can go down the list here and replace drug with any fast food or junk food item you choose. Obviously, there are slight differences, and you will not fire on all cylinders and go 7 for 7, but the similarities are amazing.

As a fast-food or junk-food eater, do you consume the food regularly? Do you eat it at least once a day? How about quitting – have you ever tried to quit but found yourself eating it again and even making excuses for it or, worse, making deals with yourself about your consumption of the food?

Go straight down the list, most people eating unhealthy foods that are high in sugars, fats and calories are eating these foods regularly. They keep a supply of the food around. They make sure to keep enough money to spend n the food items. They take trips solely to buy the food. They feel good while eating it and bad when they’re not. They focus time and energy on the food.

The cold, hard truth of the matter is that fast food has addictive qualities. You can find these qualities in any food items that are high in fats, calories and sugars. It is certainly not only fast food. We do not want to paint them as the world’s biggest villain.

Moreover, just because these types of foods have addictive qualities does not make you a victim. You need to exercise restraint and proper choices and realize that eating in moderation and living an active lifestyle should be your ultimate goal. As a responsible person, you need to recognize a problem and stop it before it starts.


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