ANN ARBOR—If you plan to deprive your taste buds of junk food, expect to suffer similar withdrawals—at least during the initial week—like addicts experience when they attempt to quit using drugs.
A new study by University of Michigan is believed to be the first of its kind to evaluate withdrawal symptoms people incur when they stop devouring highly processed foods, such as pastries, French fries and pizza.
Previous studies have focused on sugar withdrawal among animals, or the literature regarding humans offered only anecdotal evidence, said Erica Schulte, the study’s lead author and U-M psychology doctoral candidate.
What all researchers can agree upon is that the addictive qualities of tobacco, drugs or alcohol affect the brain similarly and cutting back can lead to negative side effects. Anxiety, headaches, irritability and depression are some of those outcomes.
Understanding whether withdrawal may also occur with highly processed foods was an essential next step in evaluating the validity of food addiction.
Schulte and colleagues created the first self-report tool to measure the physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms among people, then asked 231 adults to report what happened when they reduced the amount of highly processed foods they ate in the past year.
The participants reported that sadness, irritability, tiredness and cravings peaked during the initial two to five days after they quit eating junk food, then the negative side effects tapered off, which parallels the time course of drug withdrawal symptoms, the study found.
The U-M researchers did not focus on the method used to change their eating behavior, such as participants quitting “cold turkey” or gradually phasing out junk food. Schulte said future studies will analyze the behavior in real time rather than a retrospective approach as in the current findings.
The study implications suggest that withdrawal symptoms may challenge first-week dietary interventions, which may contribute to people reverting back to bad eating habits, said Ashley Gearhardt, assistant professor of psychology and co-author, along with U-M graduates Julia Smeal and Jessi Lewis.
The findings appear in the current issue of Appetite.
University if Michigan