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Binge Dieting Similar To Drug Addiction, Study Says

This article is more than 12 years old.

A new study (PDF) out of the Boston University School of Medicine finds that when the body is repeatedly deprived of foods rich in fat and sugar, that triggers a chemical reaction in the brain similar to drug addiction.

The study helps explain why yo-yo dieters often end up breaking their diets by binging on junk food.

It looked at what happens when the body gets used to eating lots of sugary, fatty foods and is suddenly denied those foods — like when a person goes on a crash diet.

Here's the chain of events: when that food intake stops, the brain experiences an increase in a chemical that can make people feel stressed and anxious, similar to being strung out on drugs.

That makes them want to eat sugary and fatty foods again — and that can lead to the binging cycles typical of many chronic dieters.

The B.U. researchers say the better approach to dieting is eating all types of food in moderation, rather than totally depriving yourself of foods high in fat and sugar.

In other words, as with most things in life, balance is best.

The study, authored by Pietro Cottone and Valentina Sabino, who are co-directors of BU's Laboratory of Addictive Disorders, appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

This program aired on November 9, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Sacha Pfeiffer Twitter Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.