Obesity, Overeating Caused By Habituation, Study Says

Obesity is a disease most often caused by overeating. Yet despite years of scientific study, research has yet to reveal precisely why people overeat. Now, one group of doctors thinks they may have a clue.

overeating caused by habituationIn a recent study, doctors at The Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, observed that that obese people seem to react to food in a completely different way than do people of normal weight.

Dr. Dale Bond of the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center thinks that slow habituation lies at the root of overeating among obese patients. Habituation means that the longer a person is exposed to a certain food, the less yummy that food seems.

Dr. Bond’s theory is that obese people become habituated to food cues, such as a food’s appearance and aroma, more slowly than people of normal weight. Since the “yum factor” of a given food remains strong in a person with a slower rate of habituation even after long-term exposure, they are likely to eat more of that food — and take in more calories — as a result.

The research team compared the rate of saliva production of two groups — pre-operative weight loss surgery patients suffering from severe obesity, and normal weight individuals — when repeatedly exposed to samples of lemon juice.

Each time the normal weight test subjects were exposed to the lemon juice samples, their rate of salivation went down, indicating that they had become habituated to the lemon juice.  Yet the bariatric surgery candidates continued to salivate the same amount no matter how many times they were exposed to the juice, indicating that very little habituation occurred.

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While the researchers in this new study don’t say that overeating is always the result of habituation, they stress the need for further research to determine exactly how bariatric surgery affects a patient’s habituation levels, and whether such changes can be related to weight loss.

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