Quitting junk food is producing similar withdrawal-type symptoms suffered by addicts when they attempt to quit using drugs, a new U.S. study showed.

The study by the University of Michigan is believed to the first of its kind to evaluate withdrawal symptoms people incur when they stop devouring highly processed foods, such as pastries, French fries and pizza.

The researchers created the first self-report tool to measure the physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms among people, then asked 231 adults to report what happened when they reduced the amount of highly processed foods they ate in the past year.

The participants reported that sadness, irritability, tiredness and cravings peaked during the initial two to five days after they quit eating junk food, then the negative side effects tapered off, which parallels the time course of drug withdrawal symptoms, the study found.

UM researchers did not focus on the method used to change their eating behavior, such as participants quitting “cold turkey” or gradually phasing out junk food.

In the next step, the researchers will analyze the behavior in real time rather than a retrospective approach as in the current findings.

The findings have been published in the current issue of Appetite.

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