“Once you pop, you just can’t stop” is the motto of a chips brand. And it is not just a slogan; according to scientists, it is exactly what happens in reality: you only want to eat one thing, but once you started you can’t stop until you finish the whole bag.

A recent study by researchers at FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg explains what happens in our brain that makes it so hard to give up junk food.

This phenomenon is called “hedonic hyperphagia” and appears in hundreds of millions of people around the world.

“This is the scientific term to describe excessive consumption of food not because you are hungry but just for pleasure,”  explains the study author Dr. Tobias Hoch. “Recreational eating can occur to anyone at any given time. The chronic form of this disorder is a key factor in triggering the obesity epidemic.”

The researchers conducted a study on rats that consumed three types of food: special food for rats, potato chips, and a mixture of carbohydrates and fats.

This third type of food was used as scientists consider that people consume a lot of crisps and chocolate because these foods contain more fat and carbohydrates than the usual food, and once they get in the body they send ‘pleasure’ signals to the brain.

Rats consumed three types of food in similar quantities. However, the scientists discovered that they ate chips in a more aggressive way, even compared to food high in fats and carbohydrates. Therefore, there is another element that makes junk food “irresistible”.

When the researchers scanned the brains of rats, it was found that they had changed, showing more activity in the centers responsible for reward and addiction and causing changes in the brain areas associated with food intake, sleep, activity, and motion.

As a result of this experiment, the researchers believe that fast food addiction acts in two stages: dut to the will of the individual and then due to their brain funcion.

“It is possible that the reward system of the brain is activated according to individual taste. In some cases it is possible that signals coming from the food are not strong enough to cause addiction,” said Hoch.

Now, researchers hope to find the molecules that trigger junk food addiction and find a method to prevent them from functioning.

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