THURSDAY, Oct. 16 (Health.com) — Chocolate milk shakes taste good, and that’s why someone might drink more of them, right? Not necessarily: A new study shows that obese women enjoy the taste of food less than women who are not overweight—possibly leading them to compensate by overindulging.
The finding suggests that some people may be born with a blunted pleasure response to food. Alternatively, it could be that overeating causes the brain to turn down the pleasure response.
If either of those is true, then the cause of overeating is more complicated than a simple lack of willpower, and it could result in a vicious cycle of increased eating in response to diminished pleasure.
The study’s author says he used to resist thinking about food as a type of addiction, but now believes that approach may make sense.
“This is the first direct evidence that obese individuals, when they eat food, experience less activation of the reward circuitry,” says Eric Stice, PhD, a research scientist at the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene.
For example, if you take cocaine or some other illicit drug, “you’re maximizing how good your brain can make you feel right then and there.” The pleasure of a milk shake is “minor league” compared to the jolt of cocaine, Stice says, but the underlying mechanism may be similar. Over time, “consumption of unhealthy food can be habit-forming.”