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Study finds withdrawal from junk food as painful as drug withdrawal

But if you can make it through the first week, you should be fine

Photo (c) fizkes - Getty Images
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America's Health recently reported that the adult obesity problem in the U.S. is getting worse. A new study from the University of Michigan may explain why.

Researchers studied the withdrawal symptoms people go through when they have been consuming large quantities of junk food on a regular basis, then suddenly stop or taper off. The withdrawal, they discovered, is very much like what drug addicts experience.

Erica Schulte, the study's lead author, says there isn't a lot of research on the topic. She says previous studies have focused on sugar withdrawal among animals. The literature regarding humans, she says, is based only on anecdotal evidence.

In the study, participants were asked to report what happened to them when they reduced or eliminated highly processed foods. They reported sadness, irritability, fatigue, and cravings that peaked during the first week after they quit eating junk food.

Good news

There is good news for consumers who want to kick the Twinkie habit – if you can make it through the first week, it gets a lot better. Nearly all participants who experienced withdrawal symptoms said they began to taper off within five days. That's actually very similar to the timeframe for drug withdrawal symptoms, the study found.

The addictive qualities of junk food may partially explain why it seems to be so difficult to reduce obesity in the U.S. The annual obesity study, released last week, found that seven states had adult obesity rates of 35 percent or greater in 2017, up from five states the year before.

Obesity levels vary widely from state to state, with a low of 22.6 percent in Colorado and a high of 38.1 percent in West Virginia.

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