Food Addiction: Oreos Vs. Cocaine



Leading up to our 3-day workshop, “Breaking Through Food Addiction,” we will be running several posts on the topic. Today, our dietitian Robyn Priebe offers her take on the recent study of Oreo cookies vs. cocaine.

Oh, to be a rat in a food addiction lab. Your days would be filled with Oreo cookies, cocaine, running mazes, binge eating, and getting stressed out. OK, maybe only the Oreo cookie part actually sounds good…maybe the mazes….

Oreos get a bad rap since they seem to be the food of choice in so many food addiction studies. Most recently, a study compared the responsiveness of the nucleus accumbens (the brain’s so-called “pleasure center”) to cocaine versus Oreos.

The study found higher amounts of the protein c-Fos was produced after consumption of Oreos versus administration of cocaine via injection – elevated c-Fos being the marker for increased likelihood of addictive behavior with the substance.

Subsequently, if you Google (or Bing) food addiction or Oreos, you’ll find a host of online posts about the maligned cookie being more addictive than cocaine. I’m confident the makers of Oreos are displeased with this publicity and the makers of cocaine are thinking, “Score 1 for us!”  But is it really that simple?

Plenty of people are bashing this study. I’ll do my best not to join in, but if this marker is a measurement of pleasure, I’d like to suggest that the following might make sense. Seeing, smelling, and tasting the cookie will be pleasurable. The memory of enjoying the cookie in the past will be firing up reward pathways in the brain. The high fat and sugar content maybe rewarding beyond the fact that they taste good. An Oreo is the full package. Contrast that to a needle full of cocaine coming at you. Ouch! Perhaps pleasurable after the fact, but it doesn’t have the sexy lead up that eating a cookie does.

That said, I’m in no position to break this study down and I don’t wish to. However, I will say that I think I’m on to something in deriving pleasure from food in a variety of ways.  The sight, smell, texture, temperature, aroma, flavor and memories we have about food all play a role in making eating a pleasurable event.  Let’s not forget this.

The next time you are considering eating a microwave dinner out of a plastic tray, you might think about popping that out onto a real plate before you nuke it and contrasting it with a crisp green salad, grated carrots, bright red peppers, and a sprinkle of crunchy toasted cashews and some dried fruit.  You may find a variety of senses needs to be stimulated to help you enjoy your food to the fullest.

What are your thoughts on this recent comparison of cookies and cocaine?  Do you think it makes sense that cookies could be just as (or more) addictive than drugs?

2 responses to “Food Addiction: Oreos Vs. Cocaine”

  1. Emily says:

    Robyn you are just the best! Your posts sound just like you (mark of a good writer) and YOU are all about Feeding Yourself Well — this post a really great, really fond-making reminder that that’s what food should be about. Thanks!

  2. Robyn Priebe says:

    Thanks, Emily; you are so kind! Glad you enjoyed my take on it.

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