Skip to main content

Food Triggers Same Brain Activity as Drugs

A new study shows that people who are compulsive eaters show activity in the same brain regions as people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. The research found that certain food "cues" activated the brain's reward circuitry.

The study included 40 healthy young women with body sizes ranging from lean to obese with an MRI machine monitoring their brains. Each woman was first shown a picture of a chocolate milkshake and an image of a glass of water.

Then they were asked to actually taste a milkshake or a solution which tasted like natural saliva.

The study found that women with higher food-addiction scores showed more activity in the parts of the brain associated with addiction when they looked at the picture of the milkshake.

Researchers were surprised that when the women actually drank the milkshake, their brains showed less activation, which could be because "the brain just gets flooded all the time, which shuts down some of reward reactors," explained study lead author Ashley N. Gearhardt, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Yale University's Rudd Center in New Haven. "You may think it's going to be the best thing you ever tasted but it doesn't meet expectations. That's maybe why they eat more."

HealthDay reports that researchers say they were especially worried by the finding that mere images of food could start the brain racing.

"What I see as a bigger concern is really our food environment. If you think of these cues as starting to trigger the problem, the worst environment you could possibly be in is the one we have," said Gearhardt. "All the billboards, all the vending machines. If you changed each of these into an alcohol cue and you were trying to recover from alcoholism, it would be impossible."

The study appeared online on Monday and will be in the August issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

To read more, go to


Popular Video