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Causes of food addiction  1

Causes of Food Addiction

The pleasurable feeling we experience strongly compels us to repeat that behavior


What is the potential cause of food addiction? There isn’t just one, of course – the situation is far more complex than that; and, some factors, up to now, remain unexplained. Therefore, food addiction has many suspected causes in the background, which include biological, psychological, and social reasons. The biological perspective provides many explanations why food addiction occurs. First of all, research has shown that addiction has a genetic component. A 2002 study concluded that women who have a family history of alcoholism also had a 49% higher chance of becoming obese than those without a family history of alcoholism. This suggests that alcohol addiction and food addiction might be connected.


''It’s considered that dopamine is what motivates us to certain activities and it’s responsible for our need for sugar and fat.''


Furthermore, a 2010 study showed increasing evidence that changes in a person’s neurochemistry and neuroanatomy happen due to food addiction. When conducting experiments with lab rats it was observed that, when given free access to high-fat and high-sugar foods, their behavior and physiology changed, like in drug abuse. The study authors cautioned against drawing a parallel between drug and food addictions, but their work does assert that there are similarities. It also highlights the possibility that eating lots of unhealthy foods could increase your chances of becoming addicted to eating.


Some causality can be explained by a neurotransmitter called dopamine and by a reward system. Dopamine plays a key role in the processing of reward derived from various behaviors, such as sexual or nutritional. It’s considered that dopamine is what motivates us to certain activities and it’s responsible for our need for sugar and fat. The term “reward system” refers to a group of structures that are activated by rewarding or reinforcing stimuli. Once exposed to such stimulus, the brain responds by increasing the release of dopamine. Thus, the structures associated with the reward system are found along major dopamine pathways in the brain. Behaviors that activate those pathways are connected with “feeling good.”


About the brain and psychological factors


Research shows that the brain starts to react to sugar and fat even before it enters our mouth. We encourage the activity of the reward system just by looking at food. After we consume sweet or greasy food, our brain saturates with dopamine and desensitization occurs – the number of receptors which react to the stimulus is decreasing, so more and more stimuli is needed for the primary pleasure to be felt. And why is it so hard to give up on addiction? Because such behavior causes major releases of dopamine and activity of the reward system. The pleasurable feeling we then experience strongly compels us to repeat that behavior.


Psychological factors also play a major role in the development of food addiction. Traumatic experiences sometimes lead to this condition, especially if they happen during childhood. Dysfunctional family problems, and a stressful life in general can have an impact on food addiction. These mental issues, which include low self-worth or dealing with grief, can motivate a person to turn to food for comfort, or to numb the emotional pain with the satisfaction that comes from eating.


All in all, the most common case is that some sort of combination of previously mentioned factors plays a role in the development of food addiction. Therefore, we shouldn’t blame only genetics, or hormones, or eating behavior, etc. We need to be aware of all these potential causes in order to approach this problem in the best possible way.