A Lifetime Supply of Chili Dogs? Hook It Into My Veins!

It’s logical to say that greasy fast food, like gambling, sex or petting a fluffy dog, can be habit-forming due to the associated psychological pleasures. But does it contain chemicals that create a substance addiction the same way alcohol or pot does? According to research cited in a recent Slate article, some scientist are starting to say yes.

Interestingly, the brain response to smoking pictures (in smokers) is very similar to the brain response to food pictures. In a previous study from our research unit, the brain response to eating chocolate was similar to the response to cocaine (in cocaine addicts). Finally, the evidence that high calorie foods are, in a way, addictive (something soft drink and fast food merchants have known for years) provides a justification for public policy.

Does the fact that both good food and good alcohol make me feel good mean that they are the same? More specifically, is there a particular chemical that you can take out of a Big Mac that will make it lose its addictive potency, like taking THC out of pot or nicotine out of cigarettes? Not that we know of. Saying that obesity has a chicken-and-the-egg effect with certain hunger-causing hormones does not prove that your McRib is the next crack cocaine.

My personal experience sheds some light on the subject. After reading Fastfood Nation, I was able to quit eating big-chain fast food very quickly, and I don’t recall having much withdrawal or remorse. I had a good “support system” (I was living at Newman College in Australia which provided three free meals per day), always crucial for eating well. But I certainly haven’t resorted to fast food as a relatively impoverished grad student.

Fast food may be habit-forming, and it may be an addictive substance for some people. But labeling it as an addictive substance seems like its own form of false advertising. Instead, people need to get better advice and education on what healthy eating is and what a regular intake of junk food can do to their bodies. Helping getter cheaper, better meat & veggies into stories is also a fabulous way to do this. Banning Frostees should be the last resort.

The most important distinction: between addiction and addictive substances. One does not always come with the other. Unless you’ve found a Wendy’s in North Carolina that sells Nicotine Frostees.

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