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Why is it that in a world where malnutrition is more likely to be associated with obesity, that it is just so hard for us to resist the lure of burgers and hot fries? We are constantly bombarded with healthy food messages: eat your greens, eat more fish, eat 2 fruit and 5 veg every day and yet – we simply don’t.

With the number of diet books, eating plans and burgeoning obesity, clearly something isn’t working, or we would all be the trim, taut, terrific bodies that we know is inside us.


Can our greater understanding of the brain help?


Whilst diet and obesity are known to affect physical health, it’s effect on mental well-being and cognitive function has been less well understood.


At a recent conference Neuroscience 2012 a number of fascinating papers gave a glimpse of how it may be possible in the future to harness our brain to treat and manage diet related disorders.


Obesity (known to shrink our brain) appears to affect cognitive function in that greater effort becomes required to complete complex decision-making tasks.


People who skip breakfast have greater activity in the pleasure seeking part of the brain produced by pictures of high calorie food. So skipping brekkie makes you more susceptible to the advert for Subway or McDonalds on your way to work.


Medication has been used to treat people with issues of drug abuse to help keep them “clean”. These medications may also prove to be useful for binge eaters – in rats anyway.


The impact of diabetes on the brain is understood and animal studies suggest that a high sugar diet affects insulin receptors in the brain leading to dulling of spatial learning and memory. The good news here is that Omega 3 supplements appear to partially negate this effect. Another good reason to continue taking them.


Current studies are investigating the possibility of a compound to treat compulsive eating disorders and obesity by blocking a specific brain receptor that is triggered by cues such as smell or food images.


I already know that it is never a good idea to go food shopping when hungry, I buy many more extras and “special treats” that I would normally find easier to resist.


And how often do marketing agencies use “smell” and other tactics to encourage us to buy – freshly percolating coffee and new bread in a house for sale, is one common example that springs to mind. In future these new brain discoveries  may make it easier for us to resist their ploys and make our purchasing decisions based on more appropriate measures.



Society for Neuroscience (SfN) (2012, October 17). This is your brain on food: Studies reveal how diet affects brain functions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/10/121017091724.htm#.UH_L69bcMgs.email

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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