SPOKANE, Wash. — Sugary and processed foods aren't just delicious, they are found everywhere, are a little too convenient sometimes and they've been shown to be as addictive as cocaine, heroin and meth.
People usually, experience withdrawal symptoms like headaches, irritability, anxiety, and depression when they quit tobacco, drugs or alcohol after a period of steady consumption. These processes in the brain are what make a person susceptible to relapse.
Previous studies have focused on sugar withdrawal among animals but only offered anecdotal evidence when it came to humans.
Now a new study by University of Michigan may be the first of its kind to evaluate if highly processed foods could also trigger similar a processes in people.
Researchers asked almost 250 adults to report how they felt after reducing their intake of highly processed foods, like pastries, pizza, and French-fries, just like with drug addiction.
The results were revealed in an article titled "Development of the Highly Processed Food Withdrawal Scale" that was published in the current issue of the Journal Appetite.
Study participants reported feeling sad, irritable, and tired days after they'd given up junk food.
Dietitians say this is very common.
“Typically when a patient is attempting to decrease the amount of sugar or even junk food , the body reacts poorly with symptoms similar to drug withdrawal, such as irritability, crankiness , tend to get tired, depressed with an increased craving and wanting to return to bad behavior,” Katherine Lefler a dietitian for MultiCare Rockwood Clinic said.
The results aren't that shocking, but the authors of the study say understanding this information is an essential next step in evaluating the validity of food addiction.
It is not just about having a so-called "sweet tooth", it affects the feel-good chemicals in the brain
“Sugar triggers increased levels of dopamine, again very similar to drug use, and the more often you continue to trigger those levels of dopamine the less likely the body is to produce enough dopamine ,” Lefler said.
This response can make you think and feel like you want more food.
Based on the study's findings the authors believe the withdrawal symptoms will lead to continued un-healthy eating habits.
Health experts say the key to success is having a plan that won't leave you "hangry" or having cravings
It may not go perfectly but cutting down on junk food and making space in your diet for healthier foods is very possible with a realistic approach and expectations.