People have often wondered if food addiction is similar to substance addiction or substance abuse. A recent study has shown that women with addictive-like eating behaviors appear to have brain response similar to those with substance abuse.
One research study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry 2011 by Gearhardt and colleagues, enrolled 48 women who had BMIs of 24-40, and exposed them to two conditions – anticipating a highly desirable food versus a control solution, and then actually consuming the two substances. The results showed that the women who had higher food addiction scores when confronted with the desirable food, had changes in the brain similar to those with substance abuse as compared to a control group. In addition when the women consumed the food, there were also changes in the brain similar to those people with substance abuse and dependence.
What the researchers concluded was that the study “supports the theory that compulsive food consumption may be driven in part by an enhanced anticipation of the rewarding properties of food and that eating may override desires to limit caloric food consumption…resulting in disinhibited food consumption.”
Keep in mind that this is one study; the subjects were women, all healthy and young. Hunger was not measured. The researchers concluded that more studies need to be done on men, and in people who have more severe eating disorders.