Diets high in saturated fat and refined sugar lead people on the path to obesity, while also changing their brains, which may provoke overconsumption of those same foods and make losing weight very challenging.
The Lays potato chip company points out the challenge obese individuals face in their slogan, “Betcha can’t eat just one!”, describing how hard it is to say no to high calorie foods.
According to Terry Davidson, director of American University’s Center for Behavioral Neuroscience and a professor of psychology at AU, junk-food diets may result in memory and cognitive decline.
Professor Davidson believes part of the problem in controlling eating behaviors lies in a region of the brain called the hippocampus. This area of the brain controls memory and learning. The more junk-food consumed the more disruption and damage occurs in the hippocampus. When the hippocampus is fouled up this makes it harder to suppress unwanted thoughts about junk food.
Part of the problem, according to Davidson, is the blood-brain barrier (a tight network of blood vessels keeping the brain safe) becomes impaired as high sugar-salt-fat junk-food is consumed and obesity results. The blood-brain barrier’s primary role is to protect the brain from substances that should not get to it. Substances that are not supposed to get to the brain are getting to it because of this breakdown.
“You start throwing things into the brain that don’t belong there, and it makes sense that brain function would be affected. What I think is happening is a vicious cycle of obesity and cognitive decline,” Davidson revealed. “The idea is, you eat the high fat/high calorie diet and it causes you to overeat because this inhibitory system is progressively getting fouled up. And unfortunately, this inhibitory system is also for remembering things and suppressing other kinds of thought interference.”
These results coincide with previous research that had found a link between human obesity in middle age and a higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive dementias.
In order for people to lose weight and keep it off they need to change their lifestyle into a permanent, healthy one. As behaviors change the brain can remodel and rewire through an amazing scientific wonder called neuroplasticity. The good news is while some conscious effort will always be required of those who have been long-term overweight or obese one isn’t stuck with poor exercise and eating behaviors forever even if habits and behaviors have been decades in the making.