Did you know that brain imaging studies have shown that pictures of delicious food can stimulate the urge to eat? I’m sure you’ve been there. Think of a menu at a chain restaurant; how can you resist the smothered potato skins or sizzling burger and fries, not to mention the double-decker sundae, when the Technicolor pictures beckon to you so enticingly? While one part of your brain is urging you to eat, typically this response is countered by simultaneous signals coming from other parts of your brain that say “Don’t eat!” Or, at least “Don’t eat that! Try a salad with some grilled chicken instead!” The challenge? In obese people, the ability to suppress those initial signals to eat is often impaired. Why?
Our brains were wired for a time when food was scarce and starvation was common. That initial response to eat was truly a survival instinct, because you never knew when (or where) you would find your next meal. We face a much different problem than our ancestors. We live in a nation where food is abundant, often cheap and high in calories. We live in a time where the reward for cleaning your plate is dessert. Add to it that many obese people deal with excessive insulin output and insulin resistance, making it even more challenging to understand when you are hungry or not hungry. The more you teach your brain to override those “Don’t eat!” signals, the less you hear them. In fact, studies show that certain types of sugar affect these responses. Blood flow and activity in brain areas controlling appetite, emotion and reward decreased after consuming a drink with glucose, and participants reported greater feelings of fullness. After drinking fructose, those brain appetite and reward areas continued to stay active, and participants did not report feeling full. Glucose and fructose are typically found together in food and beverages, and more research needs to be done to understand how they affect the brain and body weight over time. But what this shows is that our brains do influence what we eat, and this could be a key to controlling the obesity problem.
The good news? Atkins trains your body to burn its own fat for energy. Once you start burning primarily fat, this leads to natural appetite control, which should make your cravings for the sugary, starchy foods decrease—and it should make it easier for you to override your brain’s signals, or at least help you make healthier choices when it is time to eat.