Addicted to Food

In the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), binge eating will, for the first time ever, be listed as a disorder. This designation shows improvement in how eating disorders are being taken more seriously than in the past. Research shows that the brain acts similarly in all addictions, whether it is an addiction to alcohol, drugs, or food.

While there are multiple treatment options for those with alcohol or drug dependencies, the current treatments for food addiction lack long-term power. Diet, exercise, and gastric bypass may help temporarily, but are not perfect treatments for obesity. Researchers hope to further study the brain and how it shapes addiction in order to find better treatments for those with food addiction.

A Growing Problem

Recent campaigns by the federal government to provide healthier school lunches reflect the nation’s concern about its citizens’ growing waistlines. Eating unhealthy foods or eating too much food is pushing the statistics on obesity to great numbers. Within 20 years, the number of obese citizens has doubled in America. Two-thirds of Americans are diagnosed as overweight and one-third are considered obese. With obesity comes other rising numbers of disorders like diabetes and heart disease.

Seeking Rewards

In order to help find a better treatment for those who suffer from food addiction, Dr. Francesca Filbey, assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and doctoral student Samuel DeWitt conducted a study on 26 obese people who frequently engaged in binge eating. The research team studied participants with MRI technology while the participants were drinking their favorite high-calorie beverage. The results of their study were published in NeuroImage.

Many people do something in order to receive some sort of award, such as praise, a hug, money, a smile, joy, satisfaction, tangible or intangible things. This is what researchers found in their study results. Food addiction is centered in the reward center of the brain, as are most addictions. Dr. Filbey asserted that sights, smells, or even a quiet plate can trigger craving sensations in the brain. The brain activity of the participants was similar to brain activity of those with other addictions like alcohol or drugs.

Triggering Dopamine

When someone eats something they find delicious, relaxing and pleasurable the neurotransmitter dopamine is released from the brain. After experiencing this pleasure, the neurotransmitters even ignite when the individual just thinks about eating the delicious foods. The brain signals the cravings for more of the pleasurable food. In the MRI scans, researchers found greater activity in the brain of the participants who had more severe symptoms of binge eating.

Finding A Better Treatment

Dr. Filbey hopes that their research can help prove that those with food addiction cannot just heal by looking away from the snack table or going on a diet. Food addiction is as real as alcohol addiction, and recognition from the DSM and her research are only the beginning of finding effective treatment.

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