Food & Drink

Can You Actually Be Addicted to Food?

Published On 08/31/2015 Published On 08/31/2015

We all know it's damn hard to put that box of thin mints down sometimes, but is it possible to be genuinely addicted to food?

While the notion of food addiction has been the subject of recent debate, new research suggests that powerful food cravings could actually be "hard-wired" into the brains of some overweight or obese people, according to a report by CBS News. Specifically, a study conducted by an international group of researchers found that food cravings resulted in different brain activity between obese people and average-weight people. 

As part of the study, researchers served buffet-style food to several participants -- 39 obese people and 42 average-weight people. After eating, the participants were shown pictures of food to stimulate cravings, while scientists measured their brain activity with MRI brain scanners. The researchers found that the obese participants had more activity in the areas of the brain that control rewards-based behavior and the processing of the "energetic value of foods" than the average-weight participants, according to a summary of the study.

After three months, they measured the participants' Body Mass Index (BMI) and found that 11% of weight gain in the obese people could be predicted by the brain activity seen during the MRI scans. Researchers said the findings could change the way obesity is understood and potentially improve the way it is treated.

"There is an ongoing controversy over whether obesity can be called a 'food addiction,' but in fact there is very little research which shows whether or not this might be true," said Oren Contreras-Rodríguez, a lead researcher in the study. "The findings in our study support the idea that the reward processing following food stimuli in obesity is associated with neural changes similar to those found in substance addiction."

This could be promising news, considering two out of three American adults are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Tony Merevick is Cities News Editor at Thrillist and has recently self-diagnosed himself as addicted to Italian rainbow cookies. Send news tips to and follow him on Twitter @tonymerevick.



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