The Unexpected Way Your Brain May be Causing You to Overeat, Says Research

Cheyenne Buckingham
·2 min read

Some 42.4% of adults in the U.S. have obesity, meaning they have a BMI of 30 or higher. Carrying excess weight is a risk factor for various chronic diseases and even some types of cancer. While there are many causes of obesity, none of which happen overnight, routinely overeating is certainly at the forefront.

Registered dietitians and other health experts may address overeating through behavioral changes, such as eating smaller portion sizes or eating more slowly and mindfully. Now, new research says the reason you're overeating may not have anything to do with your habits. In fact, your brain may be to blame. (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now)

A team of scientists led by the University of Florida in Gainesville recently discovered that a region of the brain known as the infralimbic cortex (IL) could explain why Americans have tendencies to overeat. More specifically, it plays a role in the initial learning of food-seeking and food self-administration behaviors, Medical News Today reports.

Here's the science behind it: Some environmental cues that remind us of treats can cause us to overeat. For instance, why do we always seemingly have room for a bowl of ice cream or a handful of cookies after a very filling dinner? By simply looking at dessert, you may be persuaded to indulge even after exclaiming that you were stuffed only moments ago.

The researchers experimented with rats and found they could reduce overeating by switching off activity in the IL, a part of the medial prefrontal cortex located near the front of the brain. This is important because the prefrontal cortex of the brain plays a key role in the initial stages of learning to seek food.

What they discovered in the experiment? By blocking the activity of specific neurons in the group of mice (who had just learned they would get a treat by pressing down a lever), the rodents became less likely to press the lever to receive food.

Though this wasn't the point of the research—which appears in the journal eNeuro—it may act as a stepping stone for scientists to develop clinical applications to reduce overeating in humans. However, more research is needed.

Now, be sure to check out 3 Surprising Warning Signs You're Eating Too Much.