For Those Addicted, Food Is Like a Drug
Food like a drug for those addicted to it.
April 4, 2011— -- For Michael Prager, food used to be much more than a way to get his daily doses of nutrients or to satisfy a craving for a tasty treat.
"From an early age, I ate for reasons that other people didn't, and I ate in amounts that other people didn't," Prager said. "I stole money from my mother's purse and I stole candy from stores before I was 10 years old."
As an adult, he often stocked up on junk food after work and ate almost all of it. Food controlled him so much, in fact, he felt the need to stop for food after getting off at midnight so he wouldn't have to go back out in the middle of the night.
Now 53, it took years of binge eating and yo-yo dieting to realize he had an addiction to food.
"I used food as a coping mechanism. It's similar to the way people use drugs, or alcohol, or shopping or sex."
That's an idea supported by a new study that found food may indeed be just like a drug.
Researchers led by Yale University doctoral student Ashley Gearhardt discovered that women who exhibit more signs of food addiction, when shown a picture of a milkshake and then given a taste of it, had more activity in areas of the brain associated with "craving" than women who showed fewer signs of food addiction. The women who showed more signs of food addiction had less activity in the part of the brain that decreases the desire to eat.
In order to measure food addiction, the researchers used a scale similar to the one used to measure drug addiction.
"We got interested in this research because there have been a lot of interesting findings in looking at parallels between obesity and substance dependence. Studies have shown brain pattern similarities," said Gearhardt.
"Anticipation of a delectable treat provided the greatest activation, even more so than getting a taste of it," said Bonnie Levin, director of the Division of Neuropsychology at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Levin was not involved in the study.