The notion that some foods behave in the same manner as narcotics do goes back at least twenty years in scientific circles. A number of studies have been conducted to test bodily responses to eating and drugs, their effect on our brains and emotional wellbeing. Both, when done in excess, pose a considerable challenge to the body’s fundamental goal of staying on an even keel. Most people shy away from this comparison because addiction is traditionally associated with qualities like painful withdrawal symptoms, something that isn’t readily associated with desire of food.
If you were to put a person under an MRI scanner and drip a sugary or fatty solution into their mouths, the electric circuit in their brains would light up and flood them with feelings of pleasure. This circuit or part of the brain is that which rewards us for doing the things that keep it alive or prolong human race. Things like eating and procreating. It’s here that the correlation to eating and drugs is the strongest. Once ingested, drugs follow this same pathway, using the same neurological circuitry to reach the brain’s pleasure zones. The only difference being, with drugs our brain has been led to believe it is the right thing for our body. In this way eating becomes very similar to drugs in possessing addictive qualities.
With a handful of exceptions, most people can comfortably go a day without eating or drinking anything. Yet even half a day of fasting leaves us feeling weary and famished. In cases of prolonged use of drugs, the motivation to take more drugs becomes less a mater of wanting the benefit – the high – and more a matter of wanting to avoid the dreadful feeling generated by the craving itself. Similarly, when people begin to feel hungry, they are not looking for the primary benefit of food which is the calories needed to stay alive. Instead, they are responding to the body’s signal of wanting to ensure that it never feel hungry.
Our bodies require that the blood levels of everything – from carbon dioxide to oxygen to salt and potassium and lipids and glucose – to be constant. This constant balancing act carried out by the body is known as homeostasis. Eating and doing drugs, disturbs this balance. When you eat, especially processed food, like shooting heroin, you push all kinds of chemicals into your blood which goes against the concept of homeostasis. The body then works in overdrive to get back into some constant homeostatic level. In both cases the body will begin to release large amounts of insulin to push the sugar out the blood and into the cell.
We often underestimate the seriousness of over eating. We tend to think of over consumption of food to be a mere addiction, even when the practice is being associated with high levels of comfort eating or results in unstable eating patterns. We do this because unlike drugs, it doesn’t pose a sociological threat at large. Processed food, being heavy in salt, fat and sugar, have the same unwanted effect of disturbing our body’s balance as drugs do. It’s addictive and alluring qualities cannot and should not be trivialised or ignored.