Obesity Counseling Should Address the Brain, Not the Food

Obesity can be better managed by addressing environmental cues and neurological triggers rather than nutrition counseling, researchers say.

Telling patients to use sheer willpower and make smarter food choices is not an effective means of treating obesity, according to a team of researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Rather, obesity counseling should focus on the brain’s tendency to fixate on high-sugar and high-fat foods, and address ways of avoiding environmental triggers.

“The brain is not really set up well to handle food in a way that would promote weight loss,” said clinical psychologist and obesity researcher Bradley Appelhans, Ph.D., lead author of the article promoting a neurobehavioral model to obesity care that appears in the August issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Under the neurobehavioral approach, Western culture — with its modern conveniences and the constant lure of fast food — is the real threat.

Research indicates that three responses in the brain cause people to struggle with obesity: food reward, inhibitory control, and time discounting.

Food reward is controlled by the mesolimbic dopamine system. Dopamine is the chemical responsible for signaling rewards in the brain. Obese people’s brains release less dopamine in response to food as compared to non-obese people, studies show, and so they consume more food than others.

Inhibitory control is a behavioral function in the prefrontal cortex that controls the ability to avoid cravings, while time discounting is a person’s tendency to devalue delayed rewards.

“Most of us would rather receive $200 today rather than $300 a year from now,” noted Dr. Appelhans.

Similarly, many people would rather have the instant gratification of a candy bar at the checkout counter than the delayed gratification of a healthier weight. In order for a person to lose weight, they must choose delayed rewards over immediate rewards.

“In the current environment, the brain’s ability to inhibit eating is continually being tested.” Dr. Appelhans said. “Counselors can help patients control their weight through strategies focused on the interaction between the brain and the environment, rather than the traditional approach of encouraging patients to simply ignore or fight food cravings and eat fewer calories than they expend.”

Stress also is a major contributor to obesity because it disrupts the brain mechanism responsible for inhibitory control and promote over eating.

To avoid gaining weight, researchers advise patients to remove the temptations of high fat foods from their home or work environments, shop with a grocery list or online, and avoid buffets and restaurants that challenge inhibitory control practice. Cooking at home three times a week or more and practicing stress management techniques can also reduce the risk of giving into high fat fare, Dr. Appelhans said.

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  1. EMMES

    Diabetes and Obesity are now affecting the babies and children in record numbers. It is impossible to lose weight in the USA due to filthy food chemicals approved by the Government  
     
    You can lose weight…how?  
     
    Science study in Europe showed the best way to keep weight off is with a diabetes diet for NON DIABETICS!  Why?  The blood sugar in people without diabetes still controls how much fat the body holds. A filmmaker’s diet has caused a reversal of body fat in thousands in 10 countries. http://spirithappy.org/wp/?p=1149

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