How Your Brain Might Sabotage Your Diet

How Your Brain Might Sabotage Your Diet


Ever try a diet out?

Ever try a diet out and then find out it didn’t work for you?

If you have, then there’s a chance you found it was pretty hard to stick to the diet, right?

Well, the reason for that might not be your fault, not entirely at least.

A recent study published in The Journal Of Neuroscience indicates the reason some people fail with diets while others succeed may have to do with differences in brain anatomy.

Especially difference in the gray matter of your brain.

Hilke Plassmann, who is the INSEAD Chaired Professor of Decision Neuroscience, and her team were the ones who provided research to help establish this theory.

The scope of their research study was to see if certain regions in the brain  can be targeted for therapy to help treat overeating along with other eating disorders.

The researchers reasoned that often times the reason people couldn’t stick to a diet, or eventually developed an eating disorder, was because the ability to exhibit self-control was stunted because of compromised brain function (or undevelopment in core region of the brain).

To see if their theory was accurate, they decided to study the gray matter of different brains and how they differed between people who had higher levels of self-control and those who didn’t.

What they discovered clearly showed that yes, a difference existed.

This all has to do with something called neuroeconomics, which is the science behind decision making, specifically the “brain functions behind decision-making.”

The beliefs behind neuroeconomics and food choice are that our brains “choose” food for us based on a different qualities of said food.

Experts in neuroeconomics say we often weigh a choice to eat certain foods based on qualitative attributes that food has. These include how healthy or how tasty that food is.

Whatever our brain decides is the highest value is the food we’ll end up eating.

And some people tend to go with tasty even when they know they should go with healthy.

At least that’s what the research shows.

To reach these conclusions the team looked at the brain scans of healthy people as they were about to eat certain foods.

Their sample data was taken from 45 men and 78 women as they were presented with images of multiple food items. These subjects were asked to assign a value to the foods based entirely on the food’s tastiness and healthfulness.

When they compared the imaging data against the choices, the scientists found that volume of gray matter in two locations of the brain called dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) was larger in those who made healthy food choices.

The more they lit up, the more likely it was that the subjects were going to make healthful food choices.

And they subsequently discovered that those who had more gray matter volume typically were better making healthy food choices.

As Medical News today writes: “[the subjects made better food choices] by either putting a higher value on healthfulness or a lower value on tastiness when asked to consider healthfulness.

The researchers also found a similar relation between gray matter volume in the vmPFC and dlPFC and “dietary self-control” in another dataset with different subjects and a different kind of task that “entailed distancing from cravings for unhealthy, appetitive foods.”

They say that their study is the first to show that differences in dlPFC and the vmPFC anatomy may influence people’s choice of healthful foods. However, the findings do not suggest that people have to accept these conditions as fixed.

The brain has “plasticity,” which means that it can adapt. Gray matter volume is similar to muscle and can be developed with “exercise.”

“In the future, we may be able to come up with brain-based interventions, so that you can change the gray matter density in these regions.”