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Are you addicted to lousy food?

“No one can eat just one!” (Lay’s makes that bag of chips sound hard to put down.) White Castle will sell you a “crave case” of 30 sliders. And Coke promises that you can “open happiness.”

The marketing pitches for fast foods have long trumpeted the addictive quality of everything from cola to potato chips and burgers to pizza, but it turns out this isn’t just hot air!

Researchers at the University of Michigan have been looking at what’s cooking up your persistent desire to eat fast food. They’ve found that highly processed, high-glycemic, fatty foods are to blame. They provide a concentrated dose of their ingredients, and they’re rapidly absorbed — just like addictive drugs.

Not only that, the same researchers have published a study in the journal Appetite that establishes a Highly Processed Foods Withdrawal Scale: It seems people who are addicted to fast and low-nutrition foods and then stop eating them experience withdrawal symptoms, such as sadness, irritability, tiredness and cravings. Withdrawal peaks around days two to five.


You know that high-fat, sugary, overly processed foods are implicated in everything from heart attacks to diabetes and a lousy sex life.

Now a new study from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition looked at 471,495 adults from 10 European countries and concluded that low-nutrition foods are correlated with the development of a variety of cancers, including those of the colon-rectum, upper aerodigestive tract (lips, mouth, tongue, nose, throat, vocal cords and part of the esophagus and windpipe); stomach and lung for men; liver and breast for postmenopausal women.


There’s double trouble. Your body mixes up a secret sauce that makes your addiction to fast/highly processed foods especially hard to shake: Turns out, for overeaters (that’s 70 percent of Americans who are overweight or obese) the urge to eat past the point of fullness is waging a war against your body’s signal that says, “Stop eating!”

Researchers from the University of Michigan published a new study in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) that shows two tiny clusters of cells battle for control of feeding behavior, and unfortunately, the one that drives eating overpowers the one that says stop.

What does this have to do with addiction? Well, it turns out the brain’s opioid system is helping fuel chronic overeating, but research has now found that you can give power back to the “Stop Eating” forces by administering the drug naloxone — the same medication that can prevent death from an overdose of opioids!

So where does that leave you?

If you’re a fast food addict and/or an overeater, you want to bathe your receptors in the joys of dopamine and serotonin; that’s what any addiction does. Luckily there are some ways to do it that don’t involve food or drugs.

Exercise. Sweat it; you won’t regret it! Aerobic activity can ease withdrawal and boost dopamine release. An hour on a treadmill five days a week may stop your addiction to lousy food. It works for cocaine addicts, a new study finds.

Adopt the Dopamine Diet. Eating micronutrient-rich foods high in tyrosine — the natural building block of dopamine — will help you regain pleasure from eating smaller amounts of good-for-you, unprocessed foods. Those rich in tyrosine include: fava beans, chicken, oatmeal, mustard greens, dark chocolate and wheat germ. For recipes using these foods and more info on the diet, check out; search for “the dopamine diet.”

Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to

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