Why the obese keep eating

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Could obesity be treated as a form of drug addiction?

A new study suggests that some overweight people may be addicted to eating in the same way that, say, a cocaine addict craves another hit of his favorite drug. Researchers at Yale University gave a small group of young women questionnaires to determine their levels of food addiction. Then they scanned the volunteers’ brains while the women looked at a picture of a milk shake covered with chocolate syrup. In women with eating problems, brain areas related to pleasure and craving lit up, much as they do in drug addicts anticipating a fix. And when the women were allowed to sample the shake, the food addicts showed less than normal activity in the reward centers of their brains, meaning they felt less satisfied.

In effect, they’d developed both a need and a tolerance for sugar and fat; like drug addicts, they require more and more to satisfy their cravings. “It’s a one-two punch,” says study author Ashley Gearhardt. “When you get what you are after, there’s less of an oomph than you expected, so you consume more.”