The Science Behind Ice Cream Addiction

Most of you can look at this picture of an ice cream sundae, appreciate it’s creamy goodness and move on with the rest of the article.

However, for an unlucky minority, just the very sight of this frozen delight is enough to set off a powerful dopamine response in their brain – leading to a burst of neuro-chemical happiness and an almost irresistible desire to find the nearest ice cream parlor.

For those people, the mental association between this picture of an ice cream sundae and the real thing is so powerful (due to the dopamine), that they can already imagine the pleasure they will receive as they dive into that giant bowl of ice creamy goodness….leading to an actual ice cream addiction…or potato chip addiction…or candy addiction…or chocolate addiction…

And, considering we live in a world where ice cream sundaes aren’t hard to come by, a large percentage of those dopamine-flooded individuals are going to indulge in a bowl or two.

And it’s not just ice cream.

Scientists believe that this study points the way to figuring out why some people are more strongly motivated by environmental cues and therefore at a greater risk of compulsive/addictive behavior.

And it’s not just over-eating…this research could apply to all manner of addictions – food, drugs, sex, danger, my blog, etc…



  1. Unfortunately, I think the moment you bring up the fact that there is a small minority of people who have this reaction to this photo, a much larger group of people who don’t have it but rather have to do some emotional and physical work to get through other reasons for not limiting ice cream intake suddenly believe they belong to this small minority. As a result, such a belief can become yet another excuse for individuals to take their power over their diets out of their hands. Many scientists who are studying these behaviors are doing it to sell us more products, so many of which have been devveloped and none of which have worked thus far.

  2. This does say a lot. Not only do I have a heightened response to lots of sweets but the more I eat the more I desire them. If I have ice cream for two days in a row it sets me on a terrible binge over the next week until my wife knocks some sense into me.

    This is an important article I believe because lots of people think they are just weak as opposed to understanding what and what causes that binging.

  3. I feel as though my point was just proven. This article is saying that merely looking at a photo causes a serious need to eat it, which is why exposure to advertising is more harmful to some than others (but it’s not great for anyone really). I think the inability to stop once you start may be more strongly linked to blood sugar and emotional/psychological issues, which is not to diminish how hard it is, but to say that the source of percieved need is different. After all, if a person was truly physically addicted to all sugar, then they’d go on honey binges, or sugar cubes, or eat bananas for 3 days straight. This has to imply that something deeper is happening emotionally– ice cream is filling a void perhaps that we don’t know how to fill with friendship, a grieving process, or fulfilling careers, for example–rather than just a biological process.

    Again, studies like this only make it easier to make excuses. And I truly believe these studies are negatively motivated to try to create easy solutions that cost us money when we know we need to do physical, mental and emotional work to deal with our concerns with food, fat and our bodies.

  4. At one level (the fiscal level), I agree that funding for these studies is based on making money…and that’s not necessarily bad. Pure science has always required benefactors of some sort…as has the art world, but I digress.

    On another level (the science geek level), we have to remember that the researchers are still at least partly driven by a need to understand life’s mysteries.

    And human obesity is a fantastic mystery.

    There are so many potential factors involved in why a person shoves a lot of crappy food down their pie-hole

    Emotional, mental, chemical, hormonal, societal, etc….

    There are a ton of pieces to this puzzle and they all interact with each other – creating an infinite number of factors of influence. Some more important than others, but all working together to make us fat & unhealthy.

    And finally, I also agree that some people will look at a study like this as an excuse for their behavior. But, that has nothing to do with the study. If it wasn’t this excuse, it would be another.

    I have a friend who has certain physical limitations that make it very difficult to live a “normal” life with a job and friends, etc… But, he busts his ass to make sure that he contributes to this world. He doesn’t let his circumstances determine the quality of his life.

    And because of this, he motivates the hell out of me.

    I realize that I am ranting and raving a little bit now, but it gets me all worked up when people choose to live an unexamined life and decide to accept their limitations/quirks as a fait accompli.

    It’s our challenges that make us stronger. If someone is unlucky enough to have a brain that starts pumping out dopamine at the mere sight, sound, thought of food or drugs or sex, they still have a choice of whether or not to act on those urges that arise as a result of the dopamine. A difficult choice perhaps, but still a choice

    Nancy – I want to thank you for all your comments and to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holidays.

  5. I have been in recovery for over fifteen years now – from Alcohol. I could hang out in the local bar or liquor store all day long and never even think about taking a drink. But I cannot walk down the ice cream isle at the grocery store. Seriously. I have to avoid it like the plague. If I bought a pint I would eat it in one sitting. Same or half a gallon. Amazing addiction.

    Did I mention that my fav stops on my last trip to Rome were the gelato stands. Who needs monuments and architecture and paintings and gorgeous women – well, strike the gorgeous women, I took one with me, no, she took me 🙂 – when there is gelato to be had about every fifty feet?

  6. […] log.  Find out how and why.Doug, our co-founder of Hive Health Media with myself, has uncovered the hidden secret behind ice cream addiction.  He’s found a study linking a neurotransmitter in your brain with ice cream eating […]

  7. […] our co-founder of Hive Health Media with myself, has uncovered the hidden secret behind ice cream addiction.  He’s found a study linking a neurotransmitter in your brain with ice cream eating behavior. […]

  8. I think its not the minority who get turned on by food porn, its the vast majority! Othewise explain the role of a makeup artist for food?

  9. I look at ice cream with disgust. I remember how bad my body feels afterwards(due to my over reactive stomach with lactose) and I feel utterly repulsed by it. In fact that’s how I feel with all sweets.

  10. We toss the word “addiction” around so casually when what you’re describing is actually a natural response for some people—inconvenient and unfortunate, but natural for some! Being a person with a high dopamine response has become rather dangerous in our obesogenic culture. I am forced to devote a great deal of time and energy to fighting those thoughts and urges that I DO NOT want to have. I can become very resentful when external stimuli triggers a food craving that I find distracting and which interferes with my focus on what I’d rather be concentrating on.

    The primary goal of my work and advocacy is to present more research like this to fight the paradigm that dictates that every fat person is guilty of poor judgment and weak will and that our emotional issues are out of control. We can’t solve a problem when we persist in ignoring its real root. For me, I manage my weight because I accept that I am prone to this kind of “thought hijacking” and I’ve learned how to deal with it.

  11. AGreed – the word addiction is certainly loaded with all sorts of meanings. Some more loaded than others.

    Like you, I am VERY sensitive to the foods I eat and how my moods impact my cravings. Becoming aware of these personal facts was vital to me and has become an important part of my work with clients.

    Personally, I like the word addiction because it makes the situation seem extra-serious to my clients…to help them realize how difficult & important changing their eating patterns truly is to their health.

    While we are all personally responsible for our actions, we also need to become aware of our own challenges / limitations. People who think obese people are lazy are almost always people who have never experienced these same cravings…in respect to food. Odds are that they have a similar issue with some other aspect of their lives however…not necessarily a substance issue but an issue where it seems like they are weak willed.

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