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Giving up junk food may produce withdrawal symptoms similar to drug addiction: study

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Ann Arbor, MI — Cutting junk food from your diet may result in withdrawal symptoms similar to those experienced by people kicking a drug habit, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

Using a reporting tool they created, researchers analyzed responses from 231 adults about the physical and psychological symptoms they experienced after reducing the amount of highly processed foods – such as pizza, french fries and pastries – eaten as part of their diet in the previous year.

Participants reported instances of sadness, irritability, tiredness and cravings. These negative side effects peaked two to five days after junk food was removed from their diets and then slowly diminished, mirroring the time course of drug withdrawal symptoms.

“The addictive qualities of tobacco, drugs or alcohol affect the brain similarly, and cutting back can lead to negative side effects that can make it difficult to reduce intake,” a Sept. 19 press release from U-M states. “Anxiety, headaches, irritability and depression are some of those outcomes.”

Findings indicate that withdrawal symptoms may make dietary changes challenging, which may lead people back to their bad eating habits, the researchers said. They also point out that the methods used to change participants’ eating behavior were not taken into account, and propose that future studies analyze the behavior in real time instead of retrospectively.

The study results were published online Sept. 15 in the journal Appetite.

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