- New science shows that overeating is not a behavioral disorder, such as a lack of self-control, and is not caused by a hormonal imbalance.
- Instead foods rich in fat and sugar can supercharge the brain's reward system, which can overpower the brain's ability to tell an individual to stop eating. In these cases, the more someone eats, the more he or she wants.
- Whether that kind of mechanism is an addiction matters only if it leads to effective treatments. The drug rimonabant, which reduces nicotine cravings in tobacco users, can reduce the desire for food, but it has dangerous side effects. More work is needed to determine whether the brain's overeating networks are the same as its drug addiction pathways and, if so, whether addiction treatments can reduce the obesity epidemic.
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Would a rat risk dying just to satisfy its desire for chocolate?
I recently found out. In my laboratory, we gave rats unlimited access to their standard fare as well as to a mini cafeteria full of appetizing, high-calorie foods: sausage, cheesecake, chocolate. The rats decreased their intake of the healthy but bland items and switched to eating the cafeteria food almost exclusively. They gained weight. They became obese.
This article was originally published with the title The Food Addiction.