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Food as Medicine

Researchers have long known that food and eating can release similar chemicals from our brains as those involved in drug addiction; eating and using drugs both release dopamine. This certainly explains a lot about how so large a segment of our population has reached levels of obesity never before seen. With all of the modern stressors that are placed on people, particularly during the last few years of such uncertain economic times, “comfort foods” may have become a little too comforting.

Some studies have even suggested that the diversity in our foods also plays a part in the high levels of overweight people. By keeping our food varied and interesting, we tend to eat more, whereas a limited menu would not cause a physiological response as we’d tend to be bored by it. Boring meals, it seems, may be a plus when it comes to losing weight.

As people are exposed repeatedly to the same foods, even those which they love, they become less interested in that food. This was true in both ‘normal’ sized participants and obese individuals.  This supports what the researchers called “habituation”, which spells out the disinterest in the drug of choice; in this case the drug is food. In fact, the authors of the study came to the conclusion that a reduction in variety may be strategically important for those who want to lose weight.  That might be one reason why Atkins and other very restrictive diets work so well.

Neural activity is similar whether eating or craving a favorite food; these activities are also similar to those who abuse drugs.