Brain pathways for survival eating and pleasure eating


New research has found that part of the brain allows eating just for pleasure. It may be an insect’s brain, but the findings could have significant impact for humans by shedding light on the impulsive eating pathways of the brain. The research could lead to new treatments for eating disorders and obesity.

Eating for survival vs eating for pleasure

“We know when insects are hungry, they eat more, become aggressive and are willing to do more work to get the food,” said Ping Shen, a University of Georgia associate professor of cellular biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

“Little is known about the other half – the reward-driven feeding behavior – when the animal is not so hungry but they still get excited about food when they smell something great. The fact that a relatively lower animal, a fly larva, actually does this impulsive feeding based on a rewarding cue was a surprise.”

Flies scarfed down sugar when they weren’t hungry

The researchers found that presenting a fed and satiated fruit fly larvae with appetizing odors caused impulsive feeding of sugar-rich foods. When Shen presented fly larvae with the delicious smelling treat, they ate 30 percent more food.

When they were presented a less than tasty treat, however, they did not eat it. This suggests that eating for pleasure is an ancient behavior and that flies can be used to study these impulses.

Link between food excitement and expectation to eat

Shen also looked at the link between excitement and expectation. After giving the insects a brief whiff of the sugary food, researchers timed how long the excitement lasted.

“After 15 minutes, they revert back to normal,” said Shen. “You get excited, but you can’t stay excited forever, so there is a mechanism to shut it down.”

Possible to develop a behavioral or chemical intervention

“Dieting is difficult, especially in the environment of these beautiful foods,” Shen explained. “It is very hard to control this impulsive urge. So, if we understand how this compulsive eating behavior comes about, we maybe can devise a way, at least for the behavioral aspect, to preen it. We can modulate our behaviors better or use chemical interventions to calm down these cues.”

Source: MedicalNewsToday, Cell Press


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