Brain Responses to Food-Related Words

When many people think about obesity, they unfairly associate it with a lack of willpower or laziness. What people – and even many healthcare providers – don’t understand, is that obesity is a very complex disease. This is why patients are often relieved when they meet with a physician like Dr. Provost, who is dedicated to the treatment of obesity and its related health conditions. When a practice is committed to treating patients with obesity, you are getting a group of people who both understand, and empathize with, the struggle to lose a substantial amount of weight. 

At Provost Bariatrics, we keep up with the latest research on obesity and medical treatments. An interesting new study adds extra evidence to the truth about the complexity of obesity. This new study was presented at the Obesity Week conference in California. The researchers studied the brain responses of lean and overweight people, when they were presented with food-related words. Patients were scanned using an MRI, while they were shown words like ‘lettuce’ or ‘cheesecake’. The brain responses of obese patients were noticeably different for words like cheesecake, than those of the lean patients.  Susan Carnell, a PhD from Johns Hopkins presented the data and said, “Many people — including primary care docs and clinicians — may not realize how vulnerable certain people/patients are to environmental food cues, which may tempt them to overeat.” Additionally, “stress could also contribute to obesity by causing individuals to eat more high-calorie foods, and by altering the brain’s response to food cues in the environment, which could potentially lead to overeating.”

It is important for primary care doctors, and society as a whole, to understand that although it may be easy to attribute obesity to ‘lack of willpower,’ this judgement is unfair and harmful. Even though differences in brain activity cannot be seen when looking at someone, the difference can be significant. Bariatric surgery has been shown to not only help patients lose weight and keep it off, but also can change the way people think about food. Many patients find it easier to make healthy food choices because of the procedures. Doctors who are experts in obesity, like Dr. Provost, understand the complexities of weight gain/loss, and provide patients a safe and productive environment where they can understand their options and start on the path to better health. 

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