The statement – “I’m addicted to ice cream” – might actually be true.
There are people who say that for them, food is like a drug, and a new study suggests that high-calorie foods like ice cream can affect the brain in some of the ways drugs do.
“Over consumption of these foods down regulates reward processes. That may, in turn, make you eat more,” in an effort to feel the same pleasure you once did, according to one of the researchers quoted by The Body Odd. One of the study’s leaders compared the results to those one would expect from drug addiction or alcoholism.
Researchers at the Oregon Research Institute tested whether eating ice cream very often would lead the brain to require more and more of it before sending signals that it’s an enjoyable treat.
They surveyed 151 adolescents about their food cravings, and then scanned their brains while showing them images of a chocolate milkshake to determine how strong their cravings were. The teenagers were then fed actual milkshakes.
The participants who reported eating more ice cream over the previous two weeks enjoyed the shakes less – at least according to the brain scans. The scans showed less activity in the area of the brain associated with reward.
“We believe that means the more an individual is consuming a high-fat, high-sugar and high-energy food, they develop a tolerance of it in a similar fashion that you see happening with drug addiction or alcohol addition,” said reasearcher Kyle Burger.
All the teens in the study were a healthy weight, and Burger said that suggests the changes in the brain are happening well before obesity sets in.
The differences in brain activity also seem only to be associated with ice cream – not other unhealthy foods like hamburgers, French fries or chocolate, although they don’t yet know why.
“Addicts exhibit behaviors that they know are harmful to themselves, yet they continue to engage in the behavior,” says Dr. Bob Gwyther, a professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine . “Picture someone standing in front of the refrigerator with a pint of ice cream, eating the entire carton, despite the fact that they are obese, diabetic or whatever.”