A behavioral therapist may be as important as a low calorie diet for weight loss, according to researchers.
Brain scans show that individuals who are better at losing weight have more activity in areas of the brain related to self-control, a small new study finds.
Teaching people to trigger their brain’s self-control centers could be a key factor in losing weight and keeping it off, said senior researcher Dr. Alain Dagher. He’s a neurologist with McGill University’s Montreal Neurological Institute in Canada.
Weight loss forces the body to signal that there is an energy deficit, activating an area of the brain associated with motivation and desire, he said. That region — the ventromedial prefrontal cortex — promotes hunger pangs in response.
But there’s a counterbalancing force, another region of the brain that promotes self-control, called the lateral prefrontal cortex.
“It’s a struggle, and we’re doing brain imaging of that struggle, the struggle between the desire to lose weight and the desire to eat tasty food,” Dagher said.
In the study, Dagher and his colleagues gathered brain scans of 24 individuals enrolled in a 1,200 calorie-per-day diet at a weight-loss clinic. One brain scan was done before starting the diet, another one month into the diet, and a third at three months.
“We showed them appetizing pictures of food and measured the brain response to these pictures,” which naturally triggered the motivation region of the brain, Dagher said.
Individuals who lost the most weight also displayed increased activity in the brain regions that promote self-control, overriding the hunger signals from the motivation centers, the researchers said.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Zigman, an endocrinologist with UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, “Those people who achieved greater weight loss had a greater activation of brain regions that are involved in self-regulation, which might suggest they are better able to self-control their food intake.”
Also, Zigman said, “It seemed to indicate that in people who regained weight later down the line, those areas of the brain were not as active. It does suggest that a person’s ability to activate those areas of the brain involved in cognitive control or self-regulation did better with achieving greater weight loss.”
Dagher went on to say that it is not as simple as just saying that individuals are better wired to maintain a healthy lifestyle, since several factors can trigger how well the self-control center works.
For instance, stress can cause a person’s self-control systems not to function properly. It is possible that the people who were less successful at losing weight had more stress in their lives and those events made it more difficult for them to activate those brain regions.
Effective weight-loss plans may need to include treatments that promote self-control, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
Although it could be difficult to find qualified cognitive behavioral therapist to help them lose weight, it may still be worth a try to seek out those treatments for weight loss.
The study was published online Oct. 18 in the journal Cell Metabolism.
Source: Alain Dagher, M.D., neurologist, McGill University’s Montreal Neurological Institute, Quebec, Canada; Jeffrey Zigman, M.D., Ph.D., endocrinologist, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas and fellow, The Obesity Society; Oct. 18, 2018,Cell Metabolism, online
B.S. Criminal Justice
Real Estate Investor & Internet Marketer