Why We Love Food – and How Food Love Goes Bad – Part 1

The belly rules the mind. Spanish Proverb

A lot of people truly do not understand why they are attracted and obsessed with food. Let’s be honest, people just want to fix what is wrong and not really get into “the meat and potatoes” of why, how, etc. Here is a quick summary of the science behind it all. Part 2 will go over how you can better understand food and your dislikes and likes, and for some of you, retune yourself to what you really should get from the food you eat.

Recent research that has found the forces that have powerful influence over the choices we make about food reveal significant patterns in the neurological workings of the human brain. The systems and circuits activated in both subconscious and conscious food choice are also involved in other areas of human life – moods and emotions, addiction and withdrawal, as well as broader themes like evolution and society. The connection between all of these concepts within the human brain is mind-blowing. The more in-depth this research is studied the more we will understand the bond of human and food conditioning.

Evolutionary biology determines the fact that many humans instinctively desire foods high in fat when grazing and having meals. The thrifty-gene hypothesis provides an explanation for this: in previous societies, like that of the hunter-gatherers, humans who were able to find and store fat were favored by natural selection. What does this mean? By nature, humans look for calorie-dense foods, which also happen to be quite palatable in their fatty and sugary qualities. Our affinity for foods that can pose health risks if not consumed in moderation becomes a great problem in many modern countries where processed food is the main available type of nourishment. It is manifested in the body as obesity, heart disease, and other health repercussions, which are sadly too common. There is even scientific evidence that bacon and cheesecake affect the brain similarly to heroin and cocaine. While some of these studies appear sensational, the underlying reason for the parallel is not: addiction.

Foods high in fat have the power to modify motivation and reward systems in the brain, which in turn leads to addiction and withdrawal. One study found that the hypothalamic orexin neuron system which is activated in behaviors involving rewards in the use of cocaine and nicotine is also activated in the expectation and overconsumption of fatty foods. As in the case of drug addiction, the rats in these experiments gradually built tolerances to the food, needing to eat more and more to compensate for the insensitivity of their brains’ pleasure centers. When the rats were finally switched over to regular diets, levels of corticotrophin-releasing-factor in their brains was raised. As a result, they were more anxious and showed little interest in normal food, just like the rats that experience withdrawal from drugs.

Posted in Health, Nutrition.


  1. Hi there – Although I found this rather technical it made me stop and think that – because things are complex there is no magic pill solution, and we do need to listen to our bodies more.

    A great example is all this gluten-free madness. I started it because my room-mate is and all of our other girlfriends. I am being very kind when I say the stuff tastes awful and anything I like – well, it was never gluten-with to begin with.

    So, I believe there probably are people who need to be gluten-free – but now it is just a trendy fad. A lot of my friends are gaining weight or just pretending it is the coolest thing to be.

    Looking forward to Part 2 and everything else that may be going on with the blog.

  2. Hi Gracie,

    You got it! I get very frustrated with the whole gluten-free movement as well. We have tested and tasted over 60 products and I tend to agree with your points. People really need to realize we are individuals.
    Thanks for contributing and for supporting the piece.

    See you next week on the blog.

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