Dieters tend to crave fatty foods more when they are dieting. It is a situation seen commonly with most people on a diet regime.

The good news is that now researchers have found a new brain circuit that could help suppress the feelings before it forces people into eating junk food. According to a study led by a team from the University of Texas at Galveston, researchers were successful in inhibiting fatty food seeking behaviours in rats.

‘Craving for foods high in fat, this includes many junk foods, is an important part of obesity and binge eating,’ says Jonathan Hommel, assistant professor at the University of Texas in the US. ‘When trying to lose weight, people often strive to avoid fatty foods, which ironically increases motivation and craving for these foods and can lead to overeating. Even worse, the longer someone abstains from fatty foods, the greater the cravings.’

Several behavioural studies have demonstrated that denying certain foods while on a diet induces increased craving and motivation for that food, but the brain mechanisms that lead to this type of overeating are not known.

The study published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research saw half of the rats undergoing a surgical procedure, which blocked the effects of a brain chemical called neuromedin U receptor 2 within a region of the brain that regulates food intake. The other half of the rats did not receive this treatment. After surgical recovery, the rats that had been treated did not work nearly as hard for fatty treats as their unaltered counterparts did.

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These findings are only the first step in a long process from the science lab to the doctor’s office, but researchers are now planning to develop new drugs to help curb those cravings, Hommel adds.