Eating might be giving you a high – literally, according to a new study that showed rats fed high-fat diets produced a response similar to what happens when you use marijuana. (Interestingly, they also tested sugar and protein, but didn’t find the same reaction.) The chemical the high-fat diet produced helps regulate mood, stress and appetite.
This builds on research that’s starting to treat obesity as an addiction to food, rather than a problem with appetite regulation, a theory popularized in The End of Overeating in 2009. The book proffers that the most profitable (and abundant) foods in our free-market system are a highly-processed combination of fat, sugar and salt that, instead of filling you up, just makes you crave more. (I highly recommend it – fascinating reading).
“The hierarchy goes cocaine, heroin, crack, then comes potato chips, then way lower is alcohol and cigarettes,” says David Macklin, founder of WeightCare, a weight-loss clinic in Toronto. “When we eat something hyperpalletable – with sugar, fat and salt – we feel an incredible, positive emotional experience. People grab the side of the chair and say, ‘Oh my god, that was unbelievable!’ You don’t even have that with alcohol. It targets the reward circuit in our brains.”
Macklin says the next generation of weight-loss drugs may target that very reward system, much like those for other addictions, including alcohol. Our take? While we’re not holding our breath for a pill, anything that teases out the reasons for obesity is a welcome change from the same old calories-in-calories-out argument.