Well Being

This Is Your Brain On Obesity: Study Says Overweight People Have A Harder Time Thinking

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OK, this is interesting. A new research study suggests that people who are obese have dramatically different functioning brains–so much so that this could account for poor eating decisions and impulse control when it comes to putting down the chips and ice cream. But can we really blame our brains for over-eating?

Presented last week at the Neuroscience 2012 conference in New Orleans, researchers discussed their findings on how the foods we eat–and how much of those foods–can alter the way our brain functions. In a study of 29 adults, they used functional magnetic resonance imaging to look at how the brain reacts when we eat.

The study participants were shown words on a screen that were written in various colors (like a red word on a blue background). They were then asked to identify the color of the word. As the screens changed where there was not a lot of contrast between the two colors, the level of difficulty also changed. This is when the researchers noticed something: Those who were obese had a harder time identifying the correct color of the word. They were labeled as less efficient at making complex or difficult decisions, and this, researchers theorized could account for why we over-eat.

But it's a vicious cycle, really. If we over-eat or consume a lot of unhealthy foods, our brain functioning decreases, leading to decreased impulse control. Then we have even more desire to eat more of the wrong things. And so it continues.

The question then becomes, how do we break this cycle? Going cold turkey, as this research also suggests, is not the answer.

The researchers also looked at brain activity when people fasted overnight and in the morning, and guess what? Their brain's orbifrontal cortex was activated telling participants to eat high-calorie foods. Not surprising, this same area in the brain was less activated in those who didn't skip their morning meal. In other words, trying to deprive ourselves only leads to wanting those bad foods more.

All of which tells us something we've known all along: Diets and fasting do not work. Just like trying to go extreme with eating habits. The best solution seems to be a gradual approach to switching our diets by slowly eliminating high-calorie fatty junk foods and replacing them with healthier whole food options. But trying to do so overnight is only a recipe for disaster–one that your brain likely won't let you get away with.

Photo: shutterstock.com