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Overeating Can Actually Rewire Your Brain

 

No matter how committed we are to our health goals, even the most steadfast among us is guilty of a cheat day binge now and then (hey, no shame!). But there really is some truth to the idea that overeating just once will make you more likely to move on from bingeing on fries at happy hour to ODing on froyo later in the evening, according to a new study from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia

The study (which was done in mice, so still needs to be replicated in humans), looked at how overeating impacts our feelings of fullness—or, how the belly and brain communicate. Typically, when we eat, our bodies (and the bodies of mice) produce a hormone called uroguanylin, which signals to our brain that we're being fed and creates that feeling of fullness. But overeating causes this pathway to become blocked.

The researchers found that when mice were overfed, their small intestines stopped producing uroguanylin entirely. And the shutdown happened regardless of whether the mice were overweight. In other words, overeating has nothing to do with how healthy you are to begin with—it's all about how many calories you're consuming in one sitting. (How Bad Is Occasional Binge Eating?)

To find out just how this belly-brain pathway becomes blocked when we consume too many calories, the researchers looked at the cells that produce uroguanylin in the small intestine of the mice. Although they didn't full outline the process in the study, they speculated that the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), which regulates a lot of the body's hormones and is sensitive to stress, might be to blame. When researchers gave the overfed mice a chemical that is known to relieve stress, the pathway became unblocked.

Unfortunately, we don't know how much food is too much. The exact point at which the pathway that promotes fullness becomes blocked is unknown and might vary from person to person. The bottom line: Overeating—even just occasionally—can put you at risk of turning a #treatyoself meal into a weekend-long binge. (Before you overindulged, read up on the The New Rules of Hunger.)

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