The Neurobiology of Overeating & Food Addiction

Can food be addictive? If so, what does it mean to become a food addict? Are there underlying neurobiological mechanisms that contribute to food addiction? These are some of the vexing questions that have been the subject of debate and interest in the past decade, driven in large part by the growing health concerns linked to increasing body weights and obesity rates in Europe, the United States, and other regions.

Understanding overeating and food addiction

Well, the idea that an individual can be addicted to food comes from brain imaging and other related studies, particularly on the impact of compulsive overeating on various pleasures centers of a human brain. Experiments in humans and animals reveal that, for some individuals, the same pleasure centers of a brain triggered by addictive drugs are also activated by food, particularly highly palatable foods. Most palatable foods are rich in fat, salt, and sugar.

Like cocaine and other addictive drugs, palatable foods often trigger your brain’s feel-good chemicals like dopamine. Once you experience the pleasure associated with the high levels of dopamine transmission in your brain’s reward system after eating certain foods, you are likely to want to eat again.

What are the signs of food addiction & overeating?

Scientific researchers Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Science and Policy have created a questionnaire to help identify food addiction. Do the following apply to you?

  • Eat more than you had planned when you begin eating some foods
  • Worry about not eating some foods or cutting down on certain foods
  • Keep on eating some foods even when you are not hungry
  • Eat to a point you feel ill
  • Even when certain foods are not available, you can go out of your way to get them

Seek help for overeating and food addiction

Researchers are still working to fully understand and find an effective treatment approach for food addiction and overeating. Some believe that recovery from food addiction might be more complex compared to recovery from other types of addictions. For instance, alcoholics can ultimately abstain from alcohol, but someone addicted to food still must eat.

Fortunately, a psychologist, nutritionist, or doctor with an in-depth understanding of food addiction can help you break the cycle of overeating and food addiction.

Wrap up

The effects of some foods on the human brain make it challenging for people to avoid them. Despite not wanting to overeat, some people repeatedly find themselves eating large quantities of unhealthy foods. If you are battling eating issues such as overeating or food addiction, seek help from an expert.