05/05/2013 09:55 EDT | Updated 07/05/2013 05:12 EDT

Is Food Addiction Real?

Will there ever be any consensus on food addiction? Some people believe that overeating is just a lack of personal willpower and others think there is a biological source. We tend to perceive people who overeat as slothful and weak, but new evidence shows that it may not be that simple. There are two brain chemicals that are being closely watched, dopamine and leptin.

A study funded by the EU, called NeuroFAST, is trying to pull together the research. So far, there seems to be proof that the neurotransmitter called dopamine is increased in the brain when eating. This response is similar to what happens when taking other drugs, so it lends credence to the theory of nature over nurture. To test it, just think about how you feel when you have a headache. It goes away while you are eating; just for those few moments, the pain is soothed enough to give you a break.

Dr. Lustig from the University of California's work shows that there is a leptin resistance in the brain similar to an insulin resistance in the body. Leptin is the chemical that signals fullness or satiety in the brain and, under normal circumstances, tells you to stop eating. But sugar seems to interfere with that signal to an acclimatizing degree. Get more sugar and want even more because the brain can no longer sense small amounts and asks for more to get the same feeling. Sounds like a drug to me...

That said, for most of us, the normal way to manage is to slowly but surely cut back on sugar, like you would with caffeine to manage withdrawal. The end recommendation is still the same and it is to consume as little sugar as possible, choose whole grains that don't convert to sugar so quickly, and focus on lean proteins and lots of vegetables.

Here is my segment on CTV News for more...