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Food Addiction and Brain Activity continued...

In response to their anticipation of food, women with the higher food addiction scores, compared to those with lower scores, had more activity in two areas of the brain. These two areas are involved in decision-making, control of behaviors, and learning relationships between stimuli and responses.

When drinking the milkshake, women with higher food addiction scores showed less activation in the area of the brain that is concerned with being able to inhibit a behavior. It indicates these women were less able to control their actions.

The brain patterns found in people with high addictive food scores, Gearhardt tells WebMD, are very similar to what is seen with other addictions.

"For people who are saying, 'I feel addicted to food, I can' stop,' the same brain patterns appear to be involved," she says.

No link was found between the scores on the test and body mass index. Some lean women had high scores. Gearhardt says that suggests evaluating food addictive behaviors in lean people may help identify those at risk for later weight gain or eating problems.

Second Opinion

The study is an important one, says Gold, who is the Donald R. Dizney Eminent Scholar and Distinguished Professor at the University of Florida.

"There is a considerable amount of controversy about what a food addiction is," he says. "One of the reasons this study is so important is they are correlating findings with brain changes rather than someone's belief." The new research used a validated scale to assess the addiction objectively, he says.

To him, the bottom line of the new research is this: "The more food addicted, the more likely you are to have changes in the brain that look as though you are on a drug."

The study may help explain why some obese people who obtain treatments that focus on the physical -- such as weight loss surgery -- aren't helped, Gold tells WebMD.

For those who are food addicted, paying attention to food cues is crucial, Gearhardt says. "Monitor what triggers for you your out-of-control behavior.”

Changing your environment in a food-obsessed society is difficult, she says, but not impossible. If driving past your favorite bakery on your way to work is too much temptation, for instance, find a new route to work, she says.

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