When food is smelled or seen by compulsive eaters, also known as binge eaters, these individuals experience feelings of reward and gratification due to the increase in production of a brain chemical called dopamine, according to a recent study published in the journal Obesity.
The researchers said they believe that this same neurochemical process occurs in drug addicts when they are exposed to the substances that they abuse.
In the study, 10 obese binge eaters and eight obese non-binging individuals were evaluated for their brain responses to food stimuli using PET scans.
According to study results, the sight or smell of food elicited strong responses in the reward centers of the brain in binge eaters, the caudate and putamen regions. The researchers noted that this response was not evident in participants who were not compulsive eaters.
Although this study shows a chemical cause for binge eating, individuals who suffer from this disorder typically overeat because they feel stressed, or have trouble coping with their emotions.
Similar to drug addicts, binge eaters may feel guilty after an episode or relapse. Addiction treatment centers can provide therapy to people who feel they cannot control their compulsive eating habits.