Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Some Overweight People May Be Hardwired to Overeat

Aug. 1, 2011 -- Willpower alone usually is not enough for lasting weight loss; instead, to counter obesity, some experts now recommend focusing on the ways in which the brain responds to food rather than solely on personal choice.

In a paper published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, dietitians at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago conclude that “practitioners should more heavily focus on helping patients overcome the brain-based processes" that make dieting so difficult.

This, the researchers say, is especially important because the brains of at least some obese and overweight people may be hardwired to overeat.

Such an approach to weight loss may be more successful over the long term, and it may also help counter the stigma that overweight people often feel when unable to control their urge to eat.

“Even highly motivated and nutritionally informed patients struggle to refrain from highly palatable foods that are high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats,” study researcher Brad Appelhans, PhD, a clinical psychologist and obesity researcher at Rush University Medical Center, says in a news release.

Brain's Response to Food

In the paper, the researchers present three brain processes that are associated with both overeating and obesity: food reward, inhibitory control, and time discounting.

Food reward, which includes both the pleasure of eating and the motivation to eat, has been linked to the same brain processes that control our urges for sex, gambling, and substance use. People with a greater reward sensitivity will likely have stronger food cravings, particularly for fatty and sweet foods, the researchers write.

Inhibitory control, or the ability to eat in moderation, is influenced by the part of the brain strongly associated with self-control and planning, the researchers write.

Time discounting is the tendency to prefer short-term rewards over long-term rewards. In the case of obesity, it amounts to choosing the immediate pleasure of eating tasty foods as opposed to the health benefits of abstaining.

These three brain processes, when coupled with an environment in which highly tempting high-calorie, low-nutrition foods are readily available, contribute to overweight and obesity. Understanding those processes and controlling such environments, the researchers conclude, may contribute more to successful and sustained weight loss than focusing solely on personal choice.

They recommend the following strategies:

  • Eliminate high-fat foods from your home and your workplace.
  • Stick to a shopping list of healthy foods when at the supermarket, or shop online so you don’t have to confront tempting foods.
  • Reduce stress, a frequent trigger of overeating.
  • Stay away from all-you-can-eat buffets and restaurants that promote overindulgence.
  • Focus on short-term goals, especially at the beginning of a weight loss program.

WebMD Health News

Healthy Recipe Finder

Browse our collection of healthy, delicious recipes, from WebMD and Eating Well magazine.

Top searches: Chicken, Chocolate, Salad, Desserts, Soup

Heart Rate Calculator

Ensure you're exercising hard enough to get a good workout, but not strain your heart.

While you are exercising, you should count between...