Research recently published by the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre may add support to the theory that the viscous cycle of overeating due to being depressed, sad or anxious is based on how food affects an individual’s brain and hormones within the body.
The study, led by Stephanie Fulton, PhD, found that food acts in a similar way to drugs, in that individuals who consistently eat a high fat diet tend to reach for high fat foods again and again, because those foods create a positive feeling within the brain. Drugs addicts face a similar cycle, where the user keeps reaching for the drug in order to reach the high that it produces, but as with high fat foods, the effect the drugs have on the body usually leads to big ups and downs in terms of mood and attitude once the drug wears off. This ultimately leads to more of the bad behavior, much like the cycle of overeating.
In the study, mice fed a high fat food became markedly anxious and depressed after eating and there was a measurable difference in brain activity. This suggests a link between how brain chemistry works in relation to obesity and eating disorders. As with drugs, high fat and high sugar foods may also have a negative effect on the chemical in the body that affects mood, resulting in much more than just increased weight gain and poor cholesterol. Much like the mice in the study, human beings who consistently over-eat fatty foods may be more prone to psychological issues including depression and anxiety. As the patient attempts to overcome these symptoms with more food, the cycle continues.
The University of Montreal’s research is certainly compelling in terms of researching the biological and psychological mechanisms involved in obesity and diseases that are directly related to the condition. Future research hopes to touch on determining if high-fat and high-sugar foods have a similar role in humans.