Addiction Habits Similar to Individuals with Obesity

A recent Ted talk given by NIDA director Nora Volkow, M.D., about brains of people with obesity indicated some interesting findings. Volkow found that just as with addiction, similar changes happen in the brains of obese individuals when obesity sets in. This seems fairly straightforward: both addiction and obesity involve the way the brain responds to rewarding things, our pleasure centers.

The Ted talk discussed how over the years the world has evolved from a place where there were many dangers and few pleasurable rewards. Individuals would do anything to brave the dangers and receive the rare reward. Today’s society is very different for the most part. Most individuals have little danger in their lives and a lot of pleasurable rewards. Many of those pleasurable rewards come in the form of tasty treats, high calorie foods, and sodas. There are no roadblocks or obstacles to eating this rewarding pleasurable food and so obesity has become more and more common.

However, Volkow discusses that the brain hasn’t evolved to the point where it sees high calorie foods as a threat or a danger. Individuals, for the most part, still perceive treats as a reward and the results for our physical well being on society are harmful.

Quoting from the Ted talk, Volkow indicated that, “The sensory assault by very appealing-looking food triggers a fight within my brain, to just give in and eat the pleasurable food NOW, even though I know I will feel guilty LATER, versus resisting the urge NOW so I can have a healthy meal LATER. It’s like having a war within my brain that is pulling me in two opposite directions.”

Just like with drug addiction, the tasty foods that are so easily accessible to us trigger a dopamine reaction which becomes less sensitive over time. In other words, the reward center gets used to this trigger of dopamine and in turn requires more and more of the tasty food to produce the same effect over time. When Volkow performed brain scans on the individuals with obesity she found that their reward centers were similar to individuals addicted to cocaine.

Also similar is the actions of obese people that Volkow discusses. She indicates that people don’t choose to be addicted just like they don’t choose to be obese. No one wants to be addicted or to be obese. But it is so hard not to give in to the desire of having something to give you the dopamine pleasure release that individuals who struggle with this eventually cave and give in. And most often, these individuals resent themselves for it.

This informative Ted talk by Nora Volkow really connected the diseases of addiction and obesity and shows how they are so similar in how they affect our brains.

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