The Pleasure of Eating and Obesity

Author: Carla Fiscina
April 17, 2009

You know so well, how this happens in our life: some people eat practically  every type of food, they never watch the calories and manage to stay slim all the time. Other people, in order to avoid having extra weight, are ready for eating only natural foods, only raw or only boiled vegetables, or for giving up eating everything that contains sugar, fat, carbs, starch or whatever. And, still, they can be overweight or even obese. Many of us find it unfair, but what to do?

It is obvious that gaining weight is not connected only with the food we eat. For many years scientists were looking for links between our brain impulses and having extra weight. Finally, in 2008 it was found out that obese people usually have smaller amounts of dopamine receptors, responsible for the ability to feel pleasure while eating. Therefore, overweight people tend to consume more and more food in order to experience more satisfaction from eating.

When we eat, our body releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which can bring us a feeling of pleasure from eating. The more dopamine is released, the more pleasure we experience. However, the people who are predisposed to having extra weight usually have reduced amounts of dopamine receptors. According to Dr. Eric Stice, a specialist in the Department of Psychology at the University of Oregon, who was a leader of the research, “..obese people may have fewer dopamine receptors, so they overeat to compensate for this reward deficit“.

For about a year, the team of Dr. Stice was studying the responses of the brians of 76 female participants of the experiment. Young ladies were first offered to drink a chocolate milkshake followed by drinking a tasteless solution. With the help of MRI it was possible to monitor and measure the activity in the “plceasure center” of the women’s brain, accompanied by a regular tracking of the ladies’ BMI. As a result, it was revealed that the women with reduced striatal response to milkshakes were more likely to gain extra weight.