Can Certain Words Make You Eat More? Study Says Maybe

I don't need another reason to overeat but now a new study is saying that I have to be careful what words I read.

Certain words can make us eat more. 


Researchers have identified how food word cues influenced by both stress and genetics can be associated with increased food desire and intake, according to  

"Food cues" come in many forms including emotions, images, smells, tastes and even food words. Food words could be considered a relatively minimal food cue compared with images or smells; however, because they are ubiquitous in advertising and other contexts, they have significant potential to impact eating behavior.

Who doesn't associate bread baking with mom's kitchen?  Well, maybe not mine, but that's the cozy, comforting feeling many of us get when there's that delicious buttery smell wafting around.  Does seeing the word make us hunger for it?  Some, I suppose.  But the image certainly might.

In one study, the research team found that individuals with obesity were more likely to consume foods high in calories per unit of weight compared to those of normal weight after experiencing stress.

To conduct the study, 17 participants with obesity and 12 at normal weight underwent a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan during which they viewed words describing high-calorie foods, low-calorie foods and non-foods, and rated how much they wanted to eat each food item.

 “Our study found that individuals with obesity had a stronger response to words associated with high-calorie foods - such as chocolate spread and chicken wings - in a widespread neural circuit spanning multiple areas of the brain,” says Susan Carnell, PhD, member of The Obesity Society (TOS) and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“When we subjected individuals to a combined social and physiological stressor, both individuals with obesity and those of normal weight showed slightly altered responses to high-calorie food words, but only those with obesity ate more at a subsequent meal," she adds. "This suggests that people with obesity show a consistently different response to mere words describing foods than lean individuals. This could contribute to excess intake of energy-dense foods in both stressful and non-stressful environments.”

“While we know that certain genetic variants are tied to obesity, our study provides additional insight into how these particular obesity-associated genetic variants may be working – by increasing appetite and food intake,” says Leora Benson, MS, research coordinator for the study, at
A genetic variant is a genetic difference that makes one individual or population different from another.

But there's hope.  “It may be possible to train our brains to react differently to certain food cues,” says Martin Binks, PhD, FTOS, Secretary Treasurer of and spokesperson for The Obesity Society. “This research is a step toward better understanding how food words – relatively minimal food cues – may influence food consumption and how other common experiences like stress may interact with associated food cues to influence eating behavior. These types of studies may eventually lead to more effective behavioral strategies.”


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