Food Addiction Linked with Impulsivity

Posted on September 20th, 2014

Impulsivity is a character trait associated with various risky behaviors. Those with high levels of impulsivity may be more likely to experiment with drugs or alcohol, or to engage in risky sexual behaviors. Impulsivity can also be cast in a favorable light, with individuals that are more impulsive valued for their spontaneity.

A new study by University of Georgia researchers provides insight into impulsive personality traits and the eating behaviors that lead to food addiction. While impulsivity has been linked with alcohol and drug use for many years, the researchers found that addictive eating may be connected to the same impulsivity that also affects substance use choices.

The researchers demonstrated that impulsivity was connected with compulsive behaviors related to food, and that individuals with an impulsive personality were more likely to have a food addiction. While the study’s findings did not show that impulsive individuals were overweight, it did provide evidence that impulsivity was connected with a compulsive relationship with food, which was then connected with a less healthy weight.

Food addiction has been a controversial topic in addiction and eating disorders circles. It bears many similarities to other types of addiction, including substance addiction. The pleasure response to food is similar to that experienced with substance use, and like other types of addiction, eating can become compulsive. The individual may prioritize eating behaviors over responsibilities and relationships, much like a person addicted to drugs or alcohol might do.

The measurement tool designed to assess individuals for the presence of food addiction is the Yale Food Addiction Scale. It uses measures of behaviors and characteristics similar to those used to measure other types of addictive disorders. The researchers utilized the scale in the assessment of 233 individuals being tested for food addiction. The participants were also measured for BMI and using the UPPS-P Impulsive Behavior Scale to examine impulsivity.

Two personality traits make up impulsivity: negative urgency and lack of perseverance. Negative urgency is the rash behavior a person demonstrates as a response to negative emotions. For instance, a person that is feeling low may get drunk or overeat to feel better. A lack of perseverance is when a person is unable to continue to work through a difficult task. These individuals may struggle to stick to a plan to change addictive eating patterns. In those participants enrolled in the study both of these personality traits were found to be connected with food addiction and a higher body mass index.

This is not the first study to find links between impulsivity and food addiction. A study examining impulsivity in children showed that overweight or obese children were more likely to be impulsive when compared to healthy weight children. Another study showed that women with higher levels of lack of perseverance or negative urgency were more likely to be overweight or obese.

The findings may provide some clues to behaviors associated with food addiction. Individuals may continue to eat compulsively, despite a desire to stop or maintain a healthy body weight.

The researchers note that there may be some benefit gained from using the same therapies to treat food addiction that are helpful in other types of addiction treatment. Managing cravings, for instance, may help individuals with high levels of impulsivity learn to overcome their compulsive behaviors.

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