Weight Loss Linked to Self-Control Brain Regions

By Annamaria Cavaleri ‘22

Figure 1. Part of our culture has accepted exercise and weight loss as a means of daily life.

According to a recent study published in Cell Metabolism, weight loss success is linked to an active self-control region in the human brain. The hormones leptin and ghrelin play a role in signaling hunger cues during weight-loss. When weight is lost, the levels of these hormones in the body changes. Alain Dagher and her team at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital in Canada performed research to assess the impact these hormones have on self-control and their link to weight loss (1).

The researchers performed an fMRI study of the brain with 24 subjects from a weight loss clinic in order to assess the regions that are linked with self-regulation. The lateral prefrontal cortex was scanned as well as the ventral medial prefrontal cortex which are the brain regions involved in motivation, value, and desire. Participants were shown pictures of both appetizing foods and non-food pictures as an experimental control. The brain’s activity response to the pictures of high-calorie foods was monitored at baseline, at one month, and finally at three months. The fMRI displayed that when the subjects were shown high-calorie food pictures compared to non- food pictures, the ventral medial prefrontal cortex became much more active (1). The researchers also noted that, in participants who succeeded in losing weight, signals from the ventral prefrontal cortex decreased at the one month and three month marks. The lateral prefrontal cortex signal, which is responsible for monitoring self-control, increased throughout the duration of the study. The fMRI displayed that the self-control area had increased activity, while the value area decreased its activity. Additionally, the participants who lost the greatest amount of weight were found to have the highest level of self-control present in their fMRI scans. At the end of the 3 months, the hormones leptin and ghrelin also reset to their base level. This suggested that a new set point had been reached, and sufficient weight loss progress had been made.

These results are extremely helpful in terms of demonstrating which weight loss treatments are the most effective. Since self-control has been shown to play such a crucial role in weight loss, treatments that increase self control, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, could be beneficial. This research also indicates that stress is a major factor in causing someone to overeat, since it is linked to a lack of self-control. Further studies may be done to test these forms of therapy and their connection to weight loss.



  1. Cell Press, Weight loss success linked with active self-control regions of the brain. ScienceDaily (2018).
  2. Image retrieved from: https://www.pexels.com/photo/blue-tape-measuring-on-clear-glass-square-weighing-scale-53404/

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