Successful weight loss maintainers have different behavioral and physiological responses to food

May 23, 2018, European Association for the Study of Obesity

Successful weight loss maintainers have different behavioural and physiological responses to food than people with obesity and their lean counterparts, according to new research by the University of Birmingham and the University of Amsterdam being presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Vienna, Austria (23-26 May).

The findings indicate that a reduced physiological response to highly palatable foods such as pizza, and reduced sensitivity towards "winning" foods, may help explain why some individuals are able to successfully lose in the long-term.

Obesity costs the global economy around US$2 trillion a year, and risk factors linked to poor diet contribute to more disease than unsafe sex, alcohol, drugs, and tobacco use combined. There has been much research into how our food environment and neurobiology can lead to overeating. For example, highly palatable foods such as pizza and chocolate trigger signals in the brain that give a feeling of pleasure and reward. These cravings contribute to overeating. But little is known if these responses to food cues support weight-loss maintenance.

In this study, Leonie Balter from the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology in the UK and colleagues looked at saliva production and heart rate following exposure to pizza in different weight groups (average age 29.5 years). The team, from the Suzanne Higgs' Eating Behaviour Research Group, compared the responses of three groups-successful weight-loss maintainers who previously had (20 participants), individuals with current obesity (25), and never-overweight lean individuals (20)

They found that individuals with obesity had a heightened salivation and heart rate response following presentation of the pizza, whilst the salivation and of successful weight-loss maintainers decreased, and lean individuals were unresponsive.

Participants also completed cognitive tasks to objectively measure their motivation to win and avoid losing food and money in a computerised task. Participants had to figure out the meaning of a symbol by trial-and-error. On each trial they choose one of two figures. The figure either meant that they won food, lost food, won money, or lost money. After a while participants learned what a specific symbol meant, and their ability to win or avoid different rewards was measured.

Compared to the lean and obese groups, the ability of the weight loss maintainers to learn the meaning of the symbol was less affected by food "wins" and more affected by food "losses". These data may suggest that explicit food rewards have less value for weight loss maintainers.

The findings add to knowledge about the factors that might predict successful weight loss maintenance. The authors conclude: "Our findings reveal a marked difference in physiological reactivity to food depending on weight-loss history. The results suggest that explicit food rewards have less value for weight loss maintainers. Further longitudinal research is needed to determine whether reduced physiological to palatable (high calorie) food and sensitivity to food rewards may be predictive of that can successfully restrict intake."

This is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect and the authors point to several limitations, including that the current study included a small sample size and results must therefore be replicated in a bigger group of people.

Explore further: Lose fat, preserve muscle—weight training beats cardio for older adults

Related Stories

Lose fat, preserve muscle—weight training beats cardio for older adults

November 1, 2017
Weight training or cardio? For older adults trying to slim down, pumping iron might be the way to go.

Shedding consistent pounds each week linked to long-term weight loss

August 28, 2017
When it comes to losing weight, it's not necessarily slow, but steady, that wins the race, according to new research from Drexel University.

When it comes to food, obese women's learning is impaired

July 16, 2014
Obese women were better able to identify cues that predict monetary rewards than those that predict food rewards, according to a study by Yale School of Medicine researchers and their colleagues in the journal Current Biology. ...

Exercise alone does not lead to weight loss in women—in the medium term

November 23, 2017
Knowing whether or not exercise causes people to lose weight is tricky. When people take up exercise, they often restrict their diet – consciously or unconsciously – and this can mask the effects of the exercise. In our ...

Lessons learned from 'The Biggest Loser' study

August 1, 2016
Much media attention was given to a recent Obesity study that found that metabolism remained suppressed even when participants in "The Biggest Loser" television series regained much of the weight they lost while dieting. ...

Recommended for you

Obesity linked to increased risk of early-onset colorectal cancer

October 12, 2018
Women who are overweight or obese have up to twice the risk of developing colorectal cancer before age 50 as women who have what is considered a normal body mass index (BMI), according to new research led by Washington University ...

The metabolome: A way to measure obesity and health beyond BMI

October 11, 2018
The link between obesity and health problems may seem apparent. People who are obese are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes, liver disease, cancer, and heart disease. But increasingly, researchers are learning that the connection ...

Being overweight or obese in your 20s will take years off your life, according to a new report

October 10, 2018
Young adults classified as obese in Australia can expect to lose up to 10 years in life expectancy, according to a major new study.New modelling from The George Institute for Global Health and the University of Sydney also ...

Asthma may contribute to childhood obesity epidemic

October 9, 2018
Toddlers with asthma are more likely to become obese children, according to an international study led by USC scientists.

'Genes are not destiny' when it comes to weight

October 9, 2018
A healthy home environment could help offset children's genetic susceptibilities to obesity, according to new research led by UCL.

What did americans eat today? A third would say fast food

October 3, 2018
(HealthDay)—Americans' love affair with fast food continues, with 1 in every 3 adults chowing down on the fare on any given day.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

FoodAddicts
not rated yet Jul 01, 2018
Many people find help for food, weight, and body obsession in a free 12-step recovery program called Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA). Some of us have been diagnosed as morbidly obese while others are undereaters. Many members have maintained a healthy body weight for 5, 10, and even 20+ years. If you want more information, Google 'food addicts in recovery anonymous' and check out their website!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.