Do you ever feel unhappy or more sensitive to stress when you’re on a diet? Does it feel like things that would not normally bother you are suddenly impacting your mood a little bit more than usual? According to a new study, this may be because leaving your favorite foods behind is similar to going through drug withdrawals.
In a six-week experiment using mice published in the International Journal of Obesity, Dr. Stephanie Fulton, from the CRCHUM and the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Medicine, observed the stress of food changes on the subjects by feeding one test group a low-fat diet and a high-fat diet to the other.
They then looked at the ways in which mice behaved and seemed to feel when being rewarded with food. For example, the high-fat food group showed signs of anxiety, like attempting to avoid open areas. Their dopamine levels and CREB — a molecule which “regulates the activation of genes that play a part in the functioning of human brains, including the ones that cause dopamine to be produced” — were also examined. According to their research, the CREB, as well as stress hormones, were far more activated in the high-fat dieting mice.
“By working with mice, whose brains are in many ways comparable to our own, we discovered that the neurochemistry of the animals who had been fed a high fat, sugary diet were different from those who had been fed a healthy diet. The chemicals changed by the diet are associated with depression. A change of diet then causes withdrawal symptoms and a greater sensitivity to stressful situations, launching a vicious cycle of poor eating.”
Essentially, the higher that fat level in the mice’s diets, the more it changed their brain’s chemistry, which is so significant to human beings because it, in part, helps to explain why some people have such difficulties emotionally regarding losing weight: their poor diets have actually altered their brain chemistry. Food withdrawals are actually similar to drug withdrawals, if this study’s information proves true for humans.
Whenever I have ever (ever) been attempting to diet in the past, I always felt irritable. Consistently, highly irritable. It’s not as though I was actually angry with the people or situations around me; I simply did not have as high of a tolerance for things like big social situations, loud voices, even traffic. While this is apparently normal, it definitely highlights the importance of simply eating healthily on a consistent basis rather than in little spurts of deprivation.