The Role Your Brain Plays in Appetite and Hunger

Learn more about the connection between your brain and appetite

Food is a basic human need because you require it to survive. You need energy just to live, and you get most of that energy from the food you eat. There is a healthy balance between how much energy you consume and how much you exert.

When you eat more than you need, excess energy is stored as fat. This is why so many people struggle with weight. Here are other factors that affect the balance of energy in your body:

  • Environment and habit
  • Genetics and biology
  • Disease
  • Medications
  • Gut bacteria
  • Eating for reward or pleasure

The Role of Your Brain in Your Weight

A process in your body that you probably are unaware of most of the time is your brain’s reward system. It communicates with your body, energy balance, and your drive to eat. Communication travels back and forth between your digestive tract and multiple organs. It not only influences what you eat, but also how much. While your body determines the amount of energy you have, your brain and stomach work together to determine hunger, fullness, and the availability of food. When this system isn’t working correctly, your weight is affected.

Why Do We Overeat?

Managing the amount you eat can be one of the hardest parts of weight control. This is often because there’s so many signals shooting off in your brain at once while you eat. When you eat something you enjoy, you feel good because of a chemical in your brain called dopamine. Your brain remembers these memories and the effects that certain foods have on you. This is why certain sights, smells and tastes can trigger physical and emotional reactions — even if it’s not the right time (or food) to eat. HELLO annoying cravings!

Not surprisingly, communication problems between your brain and body can sometimes occur. For example: incorrect physiological signals like hunger can happen at the wrong time. This can cause you to overeat. And as you might imagine, over-consumption that happens too often can lead to excess calories, fat and weight gain.

Managing Weight and the Reward System

There’s no “magic cure” for combating cravings or your brain’s reward system. However, there are a number of ways you can manage when, what, and how much you eat:

  • Mindfulness
  • Medication
  • Behavior modification
  • Addressing concerns with your HCP
  • Education/awareness

Much research is still to be done about the body, the brain and the brain’s reward system, so more information on these topics can be expected in the future. To learn more, read the full article from the Obesity Action Coalition’s (OAC) Weight Matters Magazine.

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