Quitting Junk Food Causes Withdrawals Like Drug Addiction

Junk Food

We all have some guilty-pleasure junk foods: French fries, pizza, sweets. Sometimes, it can be hard to cut these unhealthy treats from our diets, and now, new research out of the University of Michigan might suggest why that’s the case. Quitting highly processed junk food can result in symptoms of withdrawal that are a lot like those experienced by people who are addicted to drugs.

The research appears in the current issue of the journal Appetite. It is believed to be the first study of its kind that examines the withdrawal symptoms people experience when they stop digging into these foods as a part of their regular diet.


“One of the frequent criticisms was that there have not been studies in humans to investigate whether withdrawal, a key feature of addiction, can occur when persons cut down on junk food.

“We believe that the findings do provide initial support for the relevance of withdrawal when cutting down on highly processed junk foods, which lends further support to the plausibility of a ‘food addiction’ for some individuals.”

Nevertheless, she noted that, “The idea that some individuals might experience addictive-like responses to highly processed junk food remains a controversial idea.”


Schulte and her colleagues asked 231 adult participants to report any physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms they might have experienced after having cut down on or abstained from junk foods over the past year.

Beyond this, they were asked if their attempts to cut down on or remove the foods from their diets were successful, and how they determined what that “success” was.

Beyond being surprised by how closely these junk food withdrawals aligned with drug withdrawal symptoms, Schulte added that the more intense the withdrawal symptom, the less likely the diet attempt was found to be a success.

“This demonstrates that withdrawal may be a relevant contributor for why individuals have such a difficult time cutting down on junk food,” she added.