Eating More and Enjoying It Less: A Vicious Cycle of Pathological Eating that Leads to Obesity

My Bariatric Life Health Guide

  • Thanksgiving has just passed. Perhaps you cooked the family meal, or perhaps you went to the home of a friend or relative. Maybe you went to a restaurant and took in a movie afterward. Whichever it was, did you enjoy the meal? Were you satisfied? Which is your favorite, light meat or dark meat? Did you have a good helping? How was the stuffing? And the mashed potatoes? Did you fill your plate with all those foods you have traditionally loved? And when you ate, did you feel… empty?

    If you are one of the many people who live in the United States and are obese, you may be experiencing a phenomenon that many obese people are familiar with. Obese people often derive less pleasure from eating than do normal weight people and will consume more high-calories food to compensate.

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    Overindulgence in the Absence of Pleasure

    Many obese people do not overindulge because they find a meal particularly pleasurable or because they enjoy hearty eating in general. Obese people often continue to eat because they are seeking a reward stimulus that has become blunted. Anticipation of a reward that does not arrive leads to increased eating. Overeating dulls enjoyment of food and this leads to continued eating as the elusive reward is pursued. Pretty soon, an vicious cycle has been set in motion.


    If this sounds similar to drug addiction, that would be because it is. In both cases, greater amounts of a substance are needed to satisfy a sensation that was once had by using lesser amounts of the substance. The culprit in all this is a defective central dopamine system.

    The Pleasure Center

    The pleasure center in the human brain promotes enjoyment and will want to repeat the action that prompted the good feelings we experience. Studies have shown that some people carry a gene that reduces the effect of dopamine in the pleasure center. This reduction of activity can lead to obesity as well as drug addiction. Such a dopamine deficiency in obese people can lead to pathological eating. Strategies aimed at improving dopamine function may be beneficial in the treatment of obese individuals.

    Researchers at the Oregon Research Institute conducted brain imaging studies on both obese and lean women to note what differences there might be. Subjects were shown a picture of a milkshake and a picture of a glass of water. It was found that the pleasure center in the brain became more active along with increases in the weight of the subjects. When the women tasted either the milkshake or a neutral solution, it was discovered that the heavier women had less activity in the pleasure center of the brain. The excitation in the pleasure center was in anticipation of a reward. The reward itself was minimized. In other words, the expectation was far greater than the reality.

    Researchers point out that obesity is not exclusively an addictive disorder but is a metabolic disorder, as well. They suggest that proper attention be given to both components.


    Learn how to increase your dopamine levels in my next sharepost, "Cheer Up and Lose Weight? It's True! Learn about Dopamine and Weight Loss."


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    Living life well-fed,



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Published On: November 30, 2012