Jeff Garlin recently spoke with Jon Stewart , Regis Philbin, and Kelly Ripa about his realization that he is addicted to food. Garlin shared that for years he has experienced out of control eating and has repeatedly failed at dieting. Upon realizing his addiction to food, Garlin has abstained from sugar and fast food for over a year. Garlin’s experience of feeling addicted to food is shared by numerous people who attend self-help groups like Overeaters Anonymous and Food Addicts Anonymous . The science behind food addiction is rapidly accumulating, and supports the experience Jeff Garlin and other self-identified food addicts have described. Neuroimaging studies have found similarities in the brain’s response to high-calorie foods and addictive drugs. Seeing pictures of highly palatable food and consuming high-calorie foods results in activation of the dopamine and opioid systems, neural systems that are implicated in drug addiction. Other research has found that genetic risk factors and brain responses associated with drug addiction are also associated with obesity. Behaviors related to substance dependence, like cravings, out of control consumption, and an inability to cut down, have all been demonstrated with eating behavior as well.
Jeff Garlin’s experience of food addiction also highlights hot topics in the field of food addiction. He reported that after giving up sugar he experienced insomnia and “felt miserable” for a number of weeks. Rats given access to sugar, under certain conditions, exhibit signs of addiction including withdrawal. Rats in withdrawal from sugar (but still eating normal rat chow) exhibit physical symptoms, such as teeth chattering, paw tremors, and head shaking. Although, human research in this area is lacking, Garlin may have been potentially experiencing signs of withdrawal from high-sugar foods. He also touched on one of the most interesting issues about food addiction, what foods might be addictive. It is highly unlikely that all foods are addictive. After all, we all need to eat. Unlike apples and broccoli, the flood of high fat, sugar, and salt foods are a relatively new development in human history. Separately, fat, sugar, and salt are all highly rewarding, but now they come packaged together in hyper-palatable products that are widely available and aggressively advertised. These are the foods that Jeff Garlin and others report experiencing problems with, not the standard foods that have been around for centuries. It is possible that just as a processed grape becomes wine, the current array of highly-processed foods may also be capable of triggering an addictive process.