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Ice Cream Brings Food Addiction Revelation

Regular ice cream-eaters experience diminishing returns of pleasure, and seek ever-larger portions to compensate.

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It's hard to recapture that first ice cream
high. Thinkstock

By Fionna Agomuoh

02/23/12

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Your favorite ice cream could easily get you hooked. New research shows that the brains of big ice cream-eaters go through processes similar to those of drug addicts—over time both groups receive less pleasure from small amounts of their chosen drug/ice cream, and crave it in larger quantities. Kyle S. Burger and Eric Stice of the Oregon Research Institute showed 151 healthy teenagers pictures of cartoon milkshakes to stimulate cravings, before feeding them real chocolate milkshakes made with Häagen Dazs ice cream—meanwhile they were scanning the kids' brains with an fMRI machine. While all the children wanted a milkshake, those who'd eaten more ice cream in the weeks prior to the scan enjoyed it less, showing lower activity in their brains' reward centers. Burger explains that people who eat lots of ice cream consume larger and larger portions to try to match the pleasure they received from previous experiences. Sound familiar? The study notes that all the participants were at healthy weights—meaning the brain changes kick in before obesity occurs. "Hyper-rewarding foods cause changes in the brain akin to what we see with tobacco and alcohol," and many foods are manufactured to "amp up reward," says Yale psychology PhD candidate and milkshake researcher Ashley Gearhardt. "That is food addiction."

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