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10 Jul
2015

New research has found that compared with people of normal weight, obese people conjure up more vivid images of aromas. According to the researchers at Yale School of Medicine, the ability to experience sensory fantasies so richly may make some people more vulnerable than others to following food cues, even when they’re not hungry.

In a study being presented this week at the annual meeting of the Society for Ingestive Behavior in Denver, Yale researchers expanded on ongoing research aimed at understanding when and how people choose to eat food when they are not – or are no longer – hungry.

“These findings highlight the need for a more individualistic approach in identifying factors that may increase risk for weight gain,” lead author Barkha Patel, a postdoctoral fellow in neuropsychology and physiology of flavor and feeding at the John B. Pierce Laboratory in New Haven, CT, said in a society news release.

Moreover, the findings presented at meetings are generally viewed as preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

In recent published research, some of the same scientists found that a specific pattern of activation in the brain following the first sip of a delicious milkshake can, given certain circumstances, distinguish between people who will likely gain weight and those whose weight will remain stable.

In the latest study, researchers at Yale’s John B. Pierce Laboratory had participants complete a series of questionnaires that asked them to imagine both visual and odor cues. The subjects then rated the vividness of these cues. Individuals with a higher body mass index reported an ability to identify more vividly imagine odors linked to food, and conjure up sensory images of nonfood odors as well.

Research had already established that obese individuals experience more food cravings than those of normal weight. While the latest research needs to be fleshed out with brain scanning and other methods, it appears to suggest that the ability to create vivid mental images stimulates and maintains food cravings triggered by the thought, smell and sight of food.