Telling your friends that you’re “addicted” to, say, waffles may feel a bit less funny after reading the latest research on high-calorie foods. The way they turbo-boost and then let crash your brain’s pleasure centres is a bit like narcotics.
Photo by Loozrboy.
The study, out of the Scripps Research Institute, in Jupiter, FL, found that the neurochemistry leading to compulsive overeating can resemble that of a brain that’s been stimulated by drugs — at least in studying rats, according to one of the published study’s authors.
“People know intuitively that there’s more to [overeating]than just willpower,” he says. “There’s a system in the brain that’s been turned on or over-activated, and that’s driving [overeating]at some subconscious level.”
To study how the brain reacts to having high-calorie (and generally delicious) foods like bacon, sausage, cheesecake and cake frosting, three groups of rats were given either a standard lab rat diet, access to the good stuff one hour each day or nearly universal, unlimited access to the treats. What happened to that last group, the ones living in fatty heaven?
They began to eat compulsively, to the point where they continued to do so in the face of pain. When the researchers applied an electric shock to the rats’ feet in the presence of the food, the rats in the first two groups were frightened away from eating. But the obese rats were not. “Their attention was solely focused on consuming food,” says Kenny.
Lab rats are not humans, and not every brain, rodent or homo sapien, is wired the same. But reading up on how powerful your brain’s hold on your behaviour can be when you’re trying to stop rewarding it with fatty food is, well, sobering.
We’ve recently suggested a mental budget for making your random cravings into solid numbers. If you know how powerful your own brain is when faced with, say, double bacon cheeseburgers, tell us how you tame it in the comments.