They say you are what you eat. But what if you really like eating doughnuts and burgers and cookies and hot dogs?
Come on, we all do it. (Don’t pretend you don’t.) It turns out, eating sugary foods and high-fat foods can rewire our brain and change how we approach everyday eating. It’s sad news for anyone who likes the occasional junk food binge. But, it’s also incredibly enlightening news to better understand what leads to overeating.
Stephanie Borgland, assistant professor in physiology and pharmacology at the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute, led the study that looks into how high-fat diets rewire the reward circuits in our brain. The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States in the middle of February.
According to Borgland, she started this research to look into why it’s so hard to control ourselves when it comes to tasty, greasy foods. And why having that one piece of cake can derail your entire week.
“We were really interested in the question of, why is it so hard to control our food intake of energy-dense food?” says Borgland. “This led me to study the hedonic aspects of food intake and whether or not consumption of this food can alter the brain circuits underlying food-seeking.”
And it turns out, it probably can.
After about three years of research on mice – rodents and humans have very similar brain circuits when it comes to reward-seeking behaviour – Borgland’s research indicated that more sweets and a higher fat diet could lead us to want to eat more. High sugar and high fat diets do change how brains work at the synaptic level. “We found that 24-hour consumption of sweetened, high fat pellets [by rodents in the study] leads to increased food approach behaviour and increased consumption days after the initial exposure.” Borgland adds that one full day of sweet, fatty foods changed the wiring of the rodents’ brains. And the changes in the brain could last as long as one week.
“I think this research highlights how the experience of palatable food itself can change your brain,” says Borgland.
So, maybe think twice before you indulge in that full bag of Easter candy. Chances are, you’re setting up your brain to make it harder to go back to selecting healthy choices.
Read the full study at pnas.org.