Yesterday Hannah brought me over a newspaper clipping that she had removed from the copy of the Wall Street Journal that was delivered to her house. Here's the link to the article, "Eating to Live or Living to Eat?"
Scholars have understood the different motives for eating as far back as Socrates, who counseled, "Thou shouldst eat to live, not live to eat." But nowadays, scientists are using sophisticated brain-imaging technology to understand how the lure of delicious food can overwhelm the body's built-in mechanism to regulate hunger and fullness, what's called "hedonic" versus "homeostatic" eating.
One thing is clear: Obese people react much more hedonistically to sweet, fat-laden food in the pleasure and reward circuits of the brain than healthy-weight people do. Simply seeing pictures of tempting food can light up the pleasure-seeking areas of obese peoples' brains.
In a study presented this week at the International Conference on Obesity in Stockholm, researchers from Columbia University in New York showed pictures of cake, pies, french fries and other high-calorie foods to 10 obese women and 10 non-obese women and monitored their brain reactions on fMRI scans. In the obese women, the images triggered a strong response in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), a tiny spot in the midbrain where dopamine, the "desire chemical," is released. The images also activated the ventral pallidum, a part of the brain involved in planning to do something rewarding.
Definitely interesting and worth reading the entire article.
This is the point I'd like to highlight:
Some of the most intriguing imaging studies have peered into the brains of people who have lost significant weight and kept it off through diet and exercise alone—although researchers say they're hard to find.
"They are very controlled individuals, and they are very rare. We had to fly some in from Alaska," says Angelo Del Parigi, a neuroimaging scientists who finally located 11 "post-obese" subjects who had dieted down to the lean range. In his studies for the National Institutes of Health's diabetes research center in Phoenix, Dr. Del Parigi found that food still elicited strong responses in the middle insula and the hippocampus, brain areas involving addiction, reward, learning and memory, just like the 23 obese subjects did.
This suggests that the temptation to see food as pleasure doesn't go away. "Post-obese people are extremely prone to regain weight," says Dr. Del Parigi. "The only way they have to counteract these strong predispositions is by having a very controlled lifestyle, with restrained food intake and exercise."
It doesn't surprise me at all, as a post-obese person. I have written about how the impulse to eat too much hasn't gone away. But I want to point this out because it supports two things I strongly believe about the chronically obese:
(1) It is really, really, really hard to overcome obesity because of factors that are beyond your immediate control (even if they are the result of free choices made long ago). Be kind, for everyone is fighting a terrible battle.
(2) It's not hopeless. It's not impossible. It requires a lot of hard work. It can be overcome.
When we talk about individuals who are battling obesity, we have to acknowledge the difficulty, and honor the success, at the same time.