In college, I knew a former ballerina who was yearning to gain weight. Over a period of 3 wks, she decided to eat a pint of Haagen Daaz ice cream every night, but quickly abandoned the idea when she didn’t  have noticeable weight gain. Now most people don’t have such well-endowed metabolic genes, and in fact, a brief news communication in Nature (the article was originally published in The Journal of Neuroscience) reported why eating hedonistic foods everyday is not physically and brain healthy; it encourages a vicious cycle of overeating…..
To put this in a more realistic perspective, if any of you have ever abstained from sweets at Lent (religious or anti-theistic it is a fantastic way to practice self-control), you’ve probably noticed that it is unbearably difficult to eat an entire Hershey bar at the end of Lent because it’s so freakin rich and sweet.

A new study conducted by researchers at University of Texas Austin was able to predict current weight and  future weight gain in women by assessing their hedonistic subjective responses to long-term milkshake consumption and dopamine receptor densities in the brain. Heavier individuals had less dopamine-expressing receptors in the brain than leaner individuals, meaning that heavier individuals would need to consume more of a milkshake to elevate dopamine levels comparable to the skinny minnies, and the more frequently a milkshake was chugged, the less satisfying the sweetness was.

This weekend I had a double-scoop pumpkin ripple and smores ice cream from Handel’s which is a once every six months treat. If I had Handel’s more frequently, I probably wouldn’t be salivating and moaning as much with each lick as I presently do.

Studies of this type should certainly generate compassion and motivation in the general public. For one, it should uplift certain misconceptions about obese individuals; not every obese person is sedentary and lazy, some are born with genes that predispose individuals to weight gain. Secondly, if the dopamine receptors densities of obesity-prone individuals can be screened then these individuals may be able to combat such obesity by, sadly, having to follow a sweet-high caloric-restricted diet. Or perhaps we can just engineer a pharmaceutical that potentiates dopaminergic signaling and receptor densities………

Stice E, Yokum S, Blum K, & Bohon C (2010). Weight gain is associated with reduced striatal response to palatable food. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 30 (39), 13105-9 PMID: 20881128