Running on Empty: Eating Disorders as Addictions
Parallels between addiction and overeating are found in body, mind, and brain.
Posted Jul 22, 2013
I am very pleased to present a guest post, created by Elizabeth, a subscriber and frequent contributor to my home blog: http://www.memoirsofanaddictedbrain.com/blog/. Elizabeth's understanding of eating disorders comes both from experience and from her expertise in the neuroscience of addiction. I feel a lot of affinity for her thoughts and feelings, since my interest in drug addiction also comes from both personal experience and scientific study.
Several years back, researcher Roy Wise argued that drug intake could be viewed as an “ingestive behavior.” He noted that animals who were limited to short periods of drug availability throughout the day showed signs of “regulated drug intake” to maintain a steady blood serum level, similar to “regulated food intake” to maintain energy balance. When these trials were ended, the animals displayed little, if any, signs of withdrawal. Thus, they were probably not really addicted or dependent on the drug at all.
What might change this pattern of "regulated" intake? In other words, where, if anywhere, is the switch between ingestion and addiction?
As discussed in this blog and elsewhere, precursors to drug addiction in humans include high stress, anxiety, depression, and social isolation. Yet similar factors aid the development of “addiction-like” drug intake in animals. When exposed to stress or social isolation, rodents with a
Indeed, the ingestion of foods can also be viewed as normal, versus addictive, depending on social-psychological factors, and many of these factors are well recognized. Stress, depression, and negative self-worth play major roles in the development of eating disordered behavior, including excessive caloric restriction, binge food intake, purging, and so forth. Then perhaps we should look for a common neural mechanism that underlies the switch from consumption to addiction in both humans and animals, drugs and food.
I’m not sure that these psychological and neural mechanisms are widespread enough to completely explain the obesity epidemic. But they can certainly explain how some people slip over the edge from a balanced pattern of eating to one that becomes dysregulated, chaotic, and even desperate.