Telephones Offline

Taking Your Brain Off the Hook for Weight Management

A growing body of neuroscience research makes it clear that your brain is at war with itself when you try to reduce your weight through changes in eating and physical activity. Relying too much on the limited capacity of your brain’s executive functions for rational decision making can be a mistake. It is easily overwhelmed by food cues that activate more primitive responses linked to hunger and rewards. By examining behavioral strategies through the lens of neuroscience, Brad Appelhans and colleagues provide a fresh view of techniques enshrined as standard practices for weight management. Their analysis is newly published in Appetite.

Temptation Management ModelApplehans describes a two-dimensional model for examining strategies to manage the temptations that undermine behavioral change strategies in obesity treatment. Reliance on decision making reflects the burden of an intervention on your brain’s finite capacity for making conscious choices. Reliance on reward processing reflects the burden of resisting the power of food cues that promise immediate gratification.

Applying this model, Appelhans identifies gaps in the evidence base for behavioral strategies and opportunities for significant innovation. Within this model, many behavioral strategies have not been tested for independent, empiric evidence of effectiveness. And more strategies with complementary technologies (through mobile apps and devices)  are appearing daily.

It’s increasingly clear that dealing with obesity requires more than reliance on personal choices. In fact, too many choices are precisely what has gotten us into this mess. A hundred and one different flavors of Pringles chips encourage personal choices — but not good ones.

Click here to read the paper in Appetite.

Telephones Offline, photograph © Claude Robillard / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


October 10, 2015

4 Responses to “Taking Your Brain Off the Hook for Weight Management”

  1. October 10, 2015 at 9:15 am, Mary-Jo said:

    Great post, Ted! This is very real. Growing up obese inspired me to become a dietitian. I wanted to contribute in any way I could to help people, especially children, achieve and maintain healthy weight and muscle:fat tissue development so as to prevent obesity-related diseases and issues and to have a better chance at a better life. But, as much as I knew and know about healthy eating, optimal nutrition, and nutritious, yet delicious recipes and food options, sometimes I have to walk away from my practice and seeing clients, as there are so many scrumptious food cues available, which I am grateful for and DO use them to educate and guide people to make better choices, but, sometimes, these images and discussion of these options, really make it difficult for me to maintain my discipline and healthy habits. My predisposition to obesity and the (patho)physiology that accompanies it, really affects my uber-sensitivity to food cues. All the knowledge, wisdom, perspective, and my usual strength to hold my ground, can crumble to pieces if I’m feeling overwhelmed by the plethora of constant fantastic blog postings of scrumptious-looking foods — healthy or not — and I find myself thoughtlessly overeating — healthy foods, included! It all has calories, whether it’s a recipe designed to be low-cal, low-fat, etc. or not. Ironically, with all the emphasis on nutritional labeling, reformulating foods to be more healthy, and finding ways to help people make better choices, I find that today, through blogs and other social media forums, in addition to conventional media outlets like TV, magazines, and books, there’s more food cues than ever, and it can overwhelm even the strongest and the best that we have within us. Thus, my awareness of this helps me to modify my behaviour, accordingly. It’s tough!

    • October 10, 2015 at 9:32 am, Ted said:

      Mary-Jo, thanks for sharing your thinking and professional expertise. It’s amazing how every bit of knowledge we gain points us to the need for knowing more.

  2. October 13, 2015 at 12:15 pm, Sven said:


    unfortunately, I’m not able to read this paper in Appetite. I’ve tried to request it several times, but they “don’t recognize the article” (

    Can you help me, please?

    Thank you.

    • October 13, 2015 at 1:11 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, Sven for reaching out to me. It seems that there is a problem with the journal’s website. Contact information for Dr. Appelhans is here. He may be able to help you with a copy of his paper.