How your brain is connected may dictate weight loss success, study suggests

To lose weight, you’ve probably heard it’s important to eat healthily and exercise. But new research from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center suggests that your brain is also important in keeping off the pounds. Their findings show that two specific brain networks influence how successful a person will be in losing weight.

Functional brain networks refer to brain areas that work together in sync. In a group of older adults, scientists looked at the brain connections of two functional networks and how they determined weight loss outcomes.

“Our findings provide further insight into complex functional circuits in the brain so we now have a mechanistic understanding of why people aren’t losing weight,” comments co-author Dr. Jonathan Burdette, a professor of radiology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, in a media release. “In theory, if you know more about urges and control, we will be able to tailor therapies to an individual as opposed to treating everyone the same.”

The study enrolled 71 people who were taking part in a weight loss clinical trial who agreed to have their brains scanned with an fMRI. People were scanned when resting, and then before and after receiving a food-related cue. After 6 months, the team compared the brain scans of people who lost weight and those who did not.

One functional network called FN1 is involved in sensory and motor skills. People who showed activity of this brain network while in a resting state were more likely to report weight loss. When presented with a food-related cue, people who lost weight showed higher activation of another functional network called FN2. FN2 is involved in a person’s ability to self-regulate and attention.

“These findings show that the brain network properties of people who were less successful at weight loss were different from folks who were more successful,” says Dr. Burdette. “Some people have a stronger unconscious sensory motor bias to pursue food, while others appear to have less. In a society of food abundance with food cues everywhere, this information can help explain why some people have such difficulty in taking off excess weight and maintaining it.”

The study is published and available to read in the journal Obesity.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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