Obesity and The Brain

obesity and the brain

by: Sam Matthews

The popular belief today is that nutrients such as fats, carbohydrates, or sugars are to blame for the obesity epidemic in this country; however, as recently reported in the Scientific American (October 2019), researcher Kevin Hall has a different idea. He believes that the change in the way food is made is at fault for people becoming more and more obese as the years go on. Hall has done studies to prove this, and he shows that ultra-processed foods disrupt “gut-brain” signals. An example of this would be when one eats something such as a nonnutritive sweetener, the brain expects to be taking in a lot of calories, when in reality, it does not. This confuses the brain since the energy you use does not match the energy you brain perceived it would have, causing you to eat more.

Furthermore, most people don’t take into account that all calories are not the same. Foods filled with fats and sugars can be the same amount of calories as a healthier food, but you will still tend to gain weight because the difference lies in its nutritional value. Another study showed that eating a lot of ultra-processed foods has the potential to change the circuitry of one’s brain and in turn, increase sensitivity to food cues. This study was done on rats, and rats that gained weight from eating junk food showed a change in their dopamine system, which caused them to become hypersensitive to food cues. These rats did not show more pleasure while eating junk food when compared to thinner rats, but did show more desire and food-seeking behavior. This shows that consuming ultra-processed foods does not lead to satisfaction, but more of a desire for food, much like drug addiction.

Overall, the obesity epidemic isn’t solely due to specific types of nutrients, but the fact that food is processed to an incredible extent in today’s day and age, causing chemicals in the brain to change, allowing one to be fooled into thinking they want/need more food than they actually do. Once you gain a little bit of weight, it is a vicious cycle due to the changes in your dopamine pathways causing you to be much more sensitive to food cues.

If you or someone you know appears to be suffering from weight related issues or an eating disorder, please contact our psychotherapy offices in New York or New Jersey to talk to one of our licensed professional psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling and Psychotherapy. Contact our offices at 201-368-3700. For more information, please visit https://www.counselingpsychotherapynjny.com/.

Image: https://mappingignorance.org/2017/08/21/child-obesity-brain-function/

Source: The Scientific American: Obesity on the Brain

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