Does Switching Diets Cause Withdrawal Symptoms?

So you’re on a particular diet and maybe having problems sticking to it, by switching from good foods to bad foods say for instance too many sweet foods which lack proper nutrition.

And you’re having a hard time keeping that balance as it should be. So does this have any effect on your mind at the same time while you are doing this.

Some recent research has found that if you switch from normal tasting foods and sweet foods, this may turn the anxiety portion of your brain on and because of this happening, you may start to over eat.

In addition, you may get withdrawal symptoms as well and start to crave those types of foods. One of the researchers said that when people diet, they stop eating fatty foods that taste good to them. But eventually start going back to eating those particular foods even though they shouldn’t.

This particular research was conducted on rats and here is what they found, when the rats cycled between different types of food, which was quite palatable and normal tasting, eventually, they wanted more of the sweet foods.

And if they were deprived of sweet tasting foods, started exhibiting the same sort of withdrawal symptoms that addicts can have when there drugs are taken away or what ever is they are addicted to.

They found that this type of eating behaviour can in fact cause a vicious circle so even though you don’t want to eat the sweet foods, you start to feel anxious and irritable you feel compelled to eat them in order to stop the bad feelings. In a way this creates a crude reward system. You have to you eat the foods that stop you from feeling anxious. So it creates a positive reinforcement cycle the wrong sort at that.

So next the researchers wanted to find out what would happen if negative reinforcement was tried on the rats.

Pleasure and Pain

So this time the researchers looked at how negative reinforcement would affect their eating habits, to give an example of this is, one of the researchers said you work hard and your boss will give you some praise, on the other hand you may want to work hard so you don’t lose your job.

Or you can eat a lot of food because you find it pleasurable or on the other hand, you can eat a lot to avoid the stress of eating certain types of foods. So to put the theory into practice the researchers split the rats up into two control groups. One of the groups ate normal food for five days and on the other two days ate some sweet food.

In the first group they just had their normal food, and the results that came back were in the group that ate the normal food, they put less effort into actually wanting it and avoided anxiety provoked situations.

And also ate less which means they were rejecting the normal food and wanting the sweet foods. When they went back on sweet foods, only their anxiety levels normalised. But a side effect of this was they ate more than needed.

Switching Diets and Stress

Next on the agenda for the researchers was, to find the tie in between diet and stress and its role within the brain. And to find exactly what the mechanism causing the addictive behaviour.

To do this they measured levels of certain types of peptides within the brain which are associated with stress, and work in your amygdala these come into effect when you are stressed, anxious, or feel fear. When they compared the levels of something called CRF, which is found within the brain and associated the three factors mentioned above.

They found in the group, being switched from normal to sweet foods they had incredibly high, levels of CRF in their brains. Whereas the other group had normal levels of it.

It wasn’t until the cycled group were given sweet foods that there levels of CRF returned to normal. This is probably a key factor in why many people aren’t able to keep to a strict diet for this very reason. We tend to think that we can eat the foods that we used eat before and enjoy. But don’t really understand the mechanisms that are going on within our brains.

The researchers wanted to know if it was pure coincidence so what they tried next was blocking the CRF on the group that was switching. When they did this they found the rats had no levels of high anxiety and it stopped them over eating on the sweet foods.


So this may explain why a lot of people can have problems when they are trying to lose weight or on a particular diet regimen they often can fail because of the switching between eating good and bad foods. It has to be said this is one piece of research that does make an awful lot of sense as far as being addicted to certain foods.

Source and references

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About Mark

Mark is the founder and editor of losethattyre You can read more about me here. Follow me on twitter @markcoruk

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