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Is Your Brain Making You Fat?

food choices, man and woman thinking about food with chicken and burger in thought bubbles

Obesity continues to be one of the biggest health concerns in the United States. Figures from The State of Obesity in 2017 show that obesity exceeds 35 percent in five states including West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana. Hawaii, Massachusetts, Colorado and the District of Columbia, on the other hand,  are the only states with an obesity rate lower than 25 percent. While an imbalanced diet and a sedentary lifestyle are tagged as the culprits, new studies revealed that the brain might play a role in people’s food choices. This could lead to further studies on better weight management, as well as education and awareness in making healthier food choices every day. Food choices are in direct correlation to how food affects your brain.

How Food Affects your Brain

The Journal of Neuroscience recently published a study on the relationship of the parts of the brain and thoughts about food. Test subjects looked at pictures of food while undergoing a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They were asked to answer whether they liked the food or not to get a reaction.

cartoon showing various kinds of food chasing a brain that's holding a stop sign toward their direction
A study says you can train your brain to help you have self-control over your food choices and resist food cravings. What is this fact’s impact on society?

The test used various food items and corresponding questions to pinpoint the area where there were reactions in the brain as shown by the MRI images. The test results showed a relationship between the brain anatomy and people’s food choices. The study was able to pinpoint the area in the brain stimulated by the pictures. It also showed which activated areas corresponded with the level of self-control that the respondents showed.

During the tests, the researchers identified active areas of the brain stimulated by grey matter value (GMV). The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) strongly affect the exercise in self-control. It manifests in an individual’s food choices. Scientists believe that the vmPFC has a part in decision-making as well as in creating values for judgment.

Additionally, the dlPFC relates to working memory, emotional control, cognition, and is active during instances of resisting impulses. Scientists think that the ability to resist food cravings are also related to the dlPFC.

Food Choices and the Brain: Friends or Enemies?

The researchers explained, however, that  a person can’t blame his brain for his poor food choices. Instead, what the researchers pointed out is that the gray matter works like a muscle. It can be developed and trained to help resist impulses with a technique called neurofeedback.

Turning the attention to the grey matter of vmPFC and dlPFC can lead to the ability to control these areas of the brain. This can lead to better self-control which can help change eating habits and help people make informed and healthier food choices.

GMV, in its role in assisting self-control, can help advance food disorder treatments. This is especially true for those related to dysfunctional self-control behavior and bad food choices.

Some food disorders like anorexia and binge eating are difficult to diagnose. It is possible to use GMV markers in helping towards a definitive diagnosis of these disorders as well as in identifying questionable food choices. These neuroanatomical differences may not lead to standard diagnostic methods but could be helpful in creating indicators for certain illnesses.

Finding out how the brain affects food choices and eating, in general, will leave a bold impact in society. Losing weight is still a problem for millions of Americans, as well as managing lifestyle-related diseases. The fact that the healthier choices could start from the brain will help people live longer in the years to come.

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