Anyone who has ever struggled with dieting has worried that they may lack the willpower to lose weight. However, new research suggests that obese people’s urge to eat may actually be due to the way their brains are wired.
On September 21, Maria Shriver reported for TODAY about a study that compared how the brains of lean women and obese women respond to food. The segment was part of the morning show’s new series, Brain Power TODAY.
Conducted by Dr. Nancy Puzziferri at the University of Texas-Southwestern, the study scanned the brains of two sets of women—15 lean and 15 obese—all of whom had eaten the same meal and reported being full. The brains of the lean women showed no interest in food after the meal, but the brains of the obese women still lit up.
“Their brains are still revved up and driving them to eat,” Dr. Puzziferri said.
The study found that for obese women who underwent weight loss surgery, their brains did change their response to food within six months. But just a year after surgery, their brains returned to craving food.
“Their brains started shifting back to their old stance,” Dr. Puzifferi said. While researchers don’t yet know why these individuals’ brains are wired differently, the study does explain why obese people have trouble keeping weight off long-term.
Shriver spoke to Myrtle Green, a mom who has struggled for years with the compulsion to overeat and took part in the study. Green lost 50 pounds with surgery and noticed that her yearning for sweets initially went away, but then returned a year later.
“I noticed that I still have the lust after certain foods,” Green said.
Dr. Puziferri told Shriver that the message to people who are struggling with weight loss is that it is going to be challenging, but don’t give up.
“Know that it’s difficult; don’t expect it to be anything but difficult,” she said. “You can still lose weight. It’s just going to take a tremendous effort.”
Green said this knowledge has empowered her to take control and try to combat her mind’s natural impulses.
“I must acknowledge that those brain patterns are there, and with that knowledge, work through it to do better,” she said.
Watch Shriver’s full report for TODAY: