Food on the brain: craving vs. self-control
Obese individuals and substance abusers exhibit similar patterns of brain activation: overactive reward regions in response to images of palatable food or drug paraphernalia, respectively, but reduced activity in regions involved in self-control when actually consuming food or drugs. It was unknown whether these patterns exist in “food addiction,” a compulsive eating disorder that can affect both obese and lean individuals.
As reported in the April 4 online edition of theArchives of General Psychiatry, a team led by psychology doctoral student Ashley N. Gearhardt, M.S., M.Phil., compared brain activity in food addicts and non-addicts. Images of a milkshake or a glass of water were presented, and subjects received a taste of the drink shortly after. In those diagnosed with food addiction, the milkshake images elicited increased activity in regions linked to motivation and craving, while tasting the shake led to lower activity in self-control regions.
“That food-related cues may trigger pathological properties is of special concern in the current food environment, where highly palatable foods are constantly available and heavily marketed,” Gearhardt says.