If you are having trouble sticking to a diet, it might not be simply because of weak resolve or a lack of willpower. A new study has indicated that, for some people, the first stages of a diet can be as difficult to accomplish as going through drug withdrawal.
Canadian researchers, in a study on mice, came to that disheartening conclusion. Even for would-be dieters who are not obese, consuming sweet and/or fat-filled foods trigger chemical changes in the brain—the same changes someone addicted to narcotics or nicotine might have. That means suddenly depriving oneself of sugary, fatty foods could give a dieter the same symptoms as drug withdrawal.
The brains of mice given a high-fat, high-sugar diet were noticeably different than their fellow rodents on a healthy diet. Unfortunately, the chemical changes are those that tend to happen when depression sets in—indicating that unhealthy eating perpetuates mood disorders. If you switch diets, it can cause withdrawal symptoms and less ability to deal with stress, which might send the dieter back to unhealthy foods.
For the purposes of the study, the researchers defined a high-fat diet as one in which fat made up at least 58% of the calories consumed (they recommended no more than 11% in a healthy diet). The high-fat mice subsequently had 11% greater waist circumferences that their low-fat peers, but were not technically obese.
High-fat mice also suffered greater anxiety, indicated by their avoidance of open areas. Their brains were physically changed, and were actively forming bigger amounts of dopamine. Dopamine improves the mice’s moods—the unhealthy diet was making them feel good. At the same time, they had higher levels of hormones associated with stress. This helps show why depression is more of a problem, and why people may have a tendency to continue eating fatty, sugary foods.
To break the cycle, to go on a diet, means to fight against these changes to the brain. The best bet would be to slowly reduce your intake of these foods and beverages, as any sudden diet reversals are likely to end in defeat.
Sources for Today’s Articles:
Why You Can’t Stay on Your Diet
Sharma, S., et al., “Adaptations in brain reward circuitry underlie palatable food cravings and anxiety induced by high-fat diet withdrawal,” International Journal of Obesity, published online December 11, 2012.