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How Intermittent Fasting Can Help With Food Addiction

In this article, you will find out how intermittent fasting can help with fighting your food addiction.
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Food addiction is hard to beat, especially for women, because they are more prone to food. Comprehend what is an addiction and what makes food addicting could help you get over it. Plus, intermittent fasting is a very good diet to deal with the food addiction struggle, here is why.

Written by
Vera Bokor
Health and Wellbeing Coach

Certain foods are addictive, especially for women. Giving up your favourite foods can be a test for anyone looking to go on a diet. 

What makes food addictive ?

Whenever we eat or drink something pleasant to taste, our body releases dopamine. Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter, it is released by our neurons and plays a major role in the motivational component of reward-motivated behaviour (8). It makes us feel good. 

Dopamine pathways have a huge role in reward-motivated behaviour. The reward is the predominant driving force, if we didn’t like food, we would never eat or drink anything.

All pleasurable activities (food, alcohol, shopping, sex, drugs, gambling, the internet) employ the dopamine pathway in the brain to generate motivation. But too much dopamine leads you to have “-aholic” at the end of the word (chocoholic, alcoholic, shopaholic, sexaholic) (3).

The reward is how we get things done. When reward becomes the primary goal, overwhelming all else, the end consequence can be an addiction (8).

What is an addiction ?

Apple with needles stuck into it.

According to APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual,3 of the following 7 criteria need to be met for a substance to be addictive:

  • Bingeing
  • Desire to quit
  • Craving
  • Affecting life
  • Irrational use
  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal

Does it remind you of anything? Five of the criteria are phycological. The other two are considered physiological, which makes them more important (1). 

The more we eat a certain food, let’s say chocolate, the more we get tolerant to the food because dopamine receptors in their brain get overloaded, so more dopamine is needed to have the same effect, we need more chocolate to get the same level of pleasure (2). 

People who tried to quit their favourite foods, especially sweets and junk food, can experience withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, muscle pain, nausea, shakiness, mood changes, sleeping difficulties, and so on. That’s what we see in the documentary movies "That Sugar Film” (5), “What Does 21 Days of Nothing but Junk Food Do to these Celebrities?” (10) and “Super Size Me” (9),  where all the participants were having withdrawal effects after the experiment was finished.

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Why are women more prone to food ?

Toasts and fruits.

Women are more likely to have difficulties with food addictions. Why is that? The answer is estrogen. Rising estrogen means rising dopamine.

Estrogen levels are higher in women and at the time of ovulation, the estrogen level is at its peak. The correlation between these two leads us to a situation where the level of dopamine is elevated. That is the reason why the majority of women have cravings for highly-palatable, calorically-dense food before and during their menstrual cycles (4).

Why is fasting efficient in giving up food addiction ?

Intermittent fasting is a tool that is used to help with food cravings. First of all, we all know, if you’ve been bit by a mosquito, you’d better not scratch the bite, because it itches even more if you do. The same principle works with fasting and food cravings. If we follow the fasting regime, we help our reward centre become more sensitive to dopamine (6).

The second point is fasting changes the body’s sensitivity to certain hormones, in the case of food addiction, the main hormone is leptin. The hormone leptin is the body’s satiety hormone which comes from fat cells and controls appetite. This hormone reduces dopamine firing in the reward centre.

When we fast, leptin levels rise. It means decreased dopamine and as a bonus decreased appetite. Leptin has also shown to be a suppressor of sweet taste perception. With more leptin levels, there is a decreased sweet taste perception (7).

What is the best fasting regime for the issue? It depends on the level of leptin and dopamine resistance. The more you crave food and the more you are obese, the longer should be fast. 

For the majority of people, twenty hours without food is more than is needed. Having the regime twice a week significantly helps decrease the addiction. For better results, the time of not eating should be longer rather than shorter. Generally until you feel REAL hunger, as this when leptin gives the signal to the brain, that it’s enough and it’s time to eat. 


  1. American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. DSM-IV-TR Criteria for Substance Abuse and Substance Dependence. Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Copyright 2000
  2. Baune Bernhard, Academic Editor. Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward. PLoS One. 2007; 2(8): e698.
  3. Berridge, Kent C. (April 2007). "The debate over dopamine's role in reward: the case for incentive salience". Psychopharmacology. 191 (3): 391–431. 
  4. Chavez Carolina, Hollaus Marianne, Scarr Elizabeth, Pavey Geoff, Gogos Andrea, Maarten van den Buuse.The effect of estrogen on dopamine and serotonin receptor and transporter levels in the brain: an autoradiography study.  Brain Res. 2010 Mar. 9;1321:51-9.
  5. Damon Gameau. "That Sugar Film". 2014
  6. Jacobs Emily, D'Esposito Mark. Estrogen Shapes Dopamine-Dependent Cognitive Processes: Implications for Women's Health. Journal of Neuroscience 6 April 2011, 31 (14) 5286-5293
  7. Lemeshow Adina R., PhD, Rimm Eric B., ScD, Hasin Deborah, PhD, Gearhardt Ashley, PhD, Flint Alan J., MD, Field Alison E., ScD, and Genkinger Jeanine M., PhD. Food and Beverage Consumption and Food Addiction Among Women in the Nurses’ Health Studies. Appetite. 2018 Feb 1; 121: 186–197.
  8. Lusting Robert H., MD.The hacking of the American Brain
  9. Morgan Spurlock. “Super Size Me”. 2004
  10. Only Human. “What Does 21 Days of Nothing but Junk Food Do to these Celebrities?”. 2020

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