You’ve tried giving up bacon double-cheeseburgers, but you
keep backsliding within days. You might have something in common with people who
struggle to quit smoking, stop drinking, or kick heroin: You could be going
Past studies in
animals showed that a tasty, high-fat diet can cause chemical changes in the
brain similar to those caused by addictive drugs. Now a new
study has shown that giving mice fatty food and then taking it away can
lead to behavior that looks an awful lot like drug withdrawal.
Researchers from the University of Montreal fed mice either
a high-fat diet or a low-fat diet for six weeks. During this time, mice in the
high-fat group not only gained weight, but also acted anxious, apathetic, and
hypersensitive to stressful situations.
Then both groups of mice were switched to ordinary chow. In
mice coming off the high-fat diet, withdrawal only magnified their
vulnerability to stress.
Just like in people, this seemed to touch off a vicious
cycle of poor eating. The mice going through withdrawal became super-motivated
to get their paws on fatty, sugary food.
Sound a lot like someone you know? The jury is still out
on whether people can become physically addicted to high-fat foods. But if
you’re planning to swear off fatty foods for the new year, it can’t hurt—and might
help—to arm yourself with strategies for coping with withdrawal.
People quitting smoking do this, and you can borrow a page
from their playbook. To manage anxiety caused by withdrawal from nicotine, the National
Cancer Institute offers the following recommendations:
Do something physically active.
Limit caffeinated coffee, tea, and soda.
Set aside some quiet time every day.
Practice meditation or deep breathing.
Relax with a massage or hot bath.
Your brain and body might protest when you first take away
those yummy, fatty treats. Remind yourself that this will pass. In the long
run, your brain and body will thank you for it.