More Pounds, Less Enjoyment

October 12, 2010

What exactly are the reward or pleasure pathways of the brain?

What exactly are the reward or pleasure pathways of the brain? Dr. David Kessler explains in The End of Overeating, that when we eat, especially highly palatable foods - those that are high in sugar, salt and fat - opioids are released in the brain. This reaction not only elevates our mood (temporarily) but also increases our desire to seek out highly palatable foods, which most often are energy dense but nutrient poor.  

He further explains that we are conditioned and react to certain cues in the environment; the anticipation of food and the association each individual has with a particular food, triggers the release of dopamine in the brain. Thus the consumption of highly palatable foods is biologically rewarding, activating the pleasure pathways in the brain, which as we know is not always metabolically rewarding.
Now, further research digs deeper and finds that the more weight one gains the less of these pleasures we experience from eating. This study from the University of Texas at Austin psychologist, Eric Stice, and published online in the September 29th addition of the Journal of Neuroscience, measured the pleasure response in the brain to both a sugary milkshake and flavorless drink and correlated them to changes in body weight. Brain scans demonstrated that as women overate and subsequently gained weight, the activity in the “reward” (or pleasure) pathways of the brain was dulled and demonstrates that weight gain mutes the pleasure response, but also found that participants who maintained or lost weight did not show the same decrease.  
Consumers are continuously confused about what to eat, and according to Eric Stice and Dr. Kessler, they are overeating, gaining weight and not receiving the same wonderful feeling of nourishment that is experienced from a well balanced meal.
As we continue to struggle with an obesity crisis in this country, the Lempert Report wants to reinforce the fact that each of us involved in the food industry has a responsibility to help halt America’s expanding waistline. By providing nutrition services in store as well as programs promoting more physical activity as well as increased fruit and vegetable consumption, retailers gain the trust, business and relationship of valued customers. CPGs should make sure they make responsible health claims on packages and return to the idea of celebrating food, not the individual ingredients that may have been added after the fact to give the appearance of a healthy snack or meal.  

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