Your Brain on Drugs (or Food): It’s All the Same

From a 2013 article posted on, Dr. David Ludwig, the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, relayed what he found from studying effects that food has on the brain.

Ludwig and his colleagues decided to take an objective look at what effect food has on the brain, to see if certain foods do indeed trigger cravings as some abused substances do.

They reviewed MRI scans of the brains of obese men after they consumed two milk shakes – one milk shake having a much higher glycemic index from carbohydrates than the other.

“After the men consumed the milk shake with the higher glycemic index, their blood sugar levels surged as expected, then crashed a few hours later, leaving them feeling hungry. But with the brain scans, Ludwig was able to show that these  shakes activated the nucleus accumbens, which is also triggered by addictive drugs and behaviors like gambling.”

Food Creates The Same Response As Drugs

The more researchers study binge eating and habitual over-eating, the more they are finding that some elements of eating are driven by the same brain processes as other addictive behaviors, like to drugs or alcohol.

Ludwig says that more research is needed to better understand the complex way that the brain  understands and relates to food; even if food isn’t addictive in exactly the same way that drugs are, exposing the connections between eating and satisfaction could lead to more effective ways of managing, or even avoiding, the lure of our favorite foods.

When I made the connection that it was the triggers in my brain–whether created from restriction and dieting, chemicals from food, emotional associations, etc–that were creating my binge eating habit, I finally started making progress in overcoming binge eating.

Until then, I thought I needed to continue doing what conventional therapy suggests: looking for childhood “emotional wounds” or scenarios that would trigger “past trauma” or stress that I was trying to avoid and mask with food. I spent YEARS journaling, going to therapists, trying different weight loss and women’s empowerment programs…and still had the same uncontrollable habit.

Instinctively I felt like somehow discovering an “emotional wound” still wouldn’t make the whipped-topping-cream-cheese-vanilla-pudding-and-oreos craving go away.

Is emotional healing the cure to overcoming binge eating?

Maybe for some. For me, I just became more frustrated the more I got into personal development. I just felt like a weak fool that had a disgusting habit that I knew wasn’t serving me but couldn’t control.

Learning how the brain works and the science of habit-forming, I found my way out of binge eating. To read exactly how I did it, check out my ebook, Binge Eating Breakthrough.

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