Obese People "Addicted" to Food — Who Knew?

Actually the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is publishing a fascinating study that looked at the brains of seven obese people who are hooked up to a nerve stimulator that can induce feelings of fullness and satiety. Their brain scans "lit up" much the same way that those of people addicted to various drugs do. Of course, science is here confirming something we all know--being fat indicates that people really like to eat.

As someone with a body mass index of 26.7, I know I eat because it feels really good. Now some of my more puritanical colleagues will suggest that it just takes willpower to overcome this kind of addiction. Some of us with a more naturalistic bent translate "willpower" into having the executive circuits in our pre-frontal cortices capable of overriding the desire for immediate pleasure demanded by our dopamine reward systems. Fortunately, 22 years and 4 months ago, my fear of death managed to activate my prefrontal cortex enough to get me to drop my 3 to 4 pack a day cigarette habit. The pleasure of good food and drink is much harder for me to give up.

As Professor Jimmy Bell, of the molecular imaging group at Hammersmith Hospital in Britain explained to the BBC:

"I do not think it is surprising they have found a link between drug addiction and overeating. In a way you can think of eating as a 'necessary addiction' -- if we were not addicted to eating, most of us would stop eating."

Outside help in bolstering our "willpower" may be on its way in various forms, including a vaccine to prevent obesity.

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    There was a standup comic (sorry, I do not recall who it was) who suggested that there really ought to be a food-based equivalent to masturbation. Just stare at a picture of a donut, stroke your tongue a bit, and when you've finished you can go eat a salad.

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    I have a hypothesis that marijuana makes a great appetite suppressant. It virtually eliminated any desire that I had to eat unhealthy foods when I was an athletic teen. I am tempted to test this hypothesis. If it works twice in the same lifetime, I will consider it an official theory.

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    The worst part of a food addiction is that, if you stop eating altogether, you die within 30 to 90 days.

    It's obviously a sinister plot by the Konspiracy Food Companies to keep us buying their products.

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    Outside help in bolstering our "willpower" may be on its way in various forms...

    Including legislation, I'm sure. Let the War on Obesity begin! Generals gathered in their masses...

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    The worst part of a food addiction is that, if you stop eating altogether, you die within 30 to 90 days.

    Here, here! All this talk of "willpower" is irrelevant when food-makers have innocent consumers by the esophagus. They get us all early, and we can never get away.

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    Or even "hear, hear!", if I were literate.

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  • Tom Clark||

    Thanks Ron, for identifying willpower with neural circuitry, not some sort of magical free will. I very much appreciate your naturalistic take on this. Down with dualism!

    best,

    Tom Clark

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