For a long time, I’ve struggled with weight. I was never an athlete, so while not fat, I was always soft. I was blessed with a pretty high metabolism, not to mention borderline ADD, so I managed to burn off much of whatever I consumed.
As I got older, though, and school transitioned to work and recess to cubicles, it was harder to avoid adding the pounds. Never a lot, but I slowly gained weight over time. By the time I reached thirty, I was learning the joy of diets, and went through a lot of them before finally realizing the key is simply to eat less and move more.
Imagine, then, my surprise to learn that it wasn’t my fault I kept piling on the pounds – I wasn’t an undisciplined eater, I was just addicted!
A new study in rats suggests that high-fat, high-calorie foods affect the brain in much the same way as cocaine and heroin. When rats consume these foods in great enough quantities, it leads to compulsive eating habits that resemble drug addiction, the study found.
“People know intuitively that there’s more to [overeating] than just willpower,” Paul J. Kenny, Ph.D 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.”
In the study, rats were stuffed with bacon, frosting and other fatty people food. To no one’s surprise, they got fat, but their brains also changed chemically in a fashion very similar to drug addicts – even in the face of pain, the rats continued to gorge themselves.
What I really found interesting is the theory being floated on why the rats’ – and, presumably, our own – brains might be altered by fatty foods in a way similar to cocaine. According to Dr.Gene-Jack Wang, it’s because the development of drug processing and food processing have mirrored each other over time.
Coca leaves have been used since ancient times, he points out, but people learned to purify or alter cocaine to deliver it more efficiently to their brains (by injecting or smoking it, for instance). This made the drug more addictive.
According to Wang, food has evolved in a similar way. “We purify our food,” he says. “Our ancestors ate whole grains, but we’re eating white bread. American Indians ate corn; we eat corn syrup.”
The ingredients in purified modern food cause people to “eat unconsciously and unnecessarily,” and will also prompt an animal to “eat like a drug abuser [uses drugs],” says Wang.
Interesting theory, doctor. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find my mirror so I can draw out a line of frosting …