Maybe it’s the steady onslaught of Cadbury Creme Eggs and matzo brei, or perhaps it’s the realization that global warming is making the onset of swimsuit season come ever earlier. For whatever reason, April is Emotional Overeating Awareness Month. Science marked the occasion in a characteristically hardass way with a lecture this week by Dr. Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. From a lectern at Rockefeller University, Volkow stated that yes, food is definitely, absolutely, for sure as addictive as drugs.
The idea is controversial—most experts reject the idea of food as an addictive substance since it doesn’t lead to addictive behaviors. Food and drug addiction are both linked to dysfunction in the part of the brain associated with pleasure and self-control. Addicts often have fewer dopamine receptors, the things that control temptation. But while the majority of casual cocaine snorters don’t become addicted, says Volkow, two-thirds of the 34 percent of obese American adults obviously have trouble controlling how much they eat.
Another factor in our gradual transformation into a nation of food junkies, Volkow argues, is the sheer volume of fat and sugar all around us, a radical departure from the feast-or-famine cycles of the last few thousand years of human existence. We’re all still struggling to adapt to it.
This debate shows no signs of ebbing. And as Emotional Overeating Awareness Month seeks to remind us, there’s that whole issue of eating your feelings. Still, there’s a decent possibility that all of those food media claims that “[Insert sugary/fatty/salty food here] is like crack” aren’t entirely false.