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The Reason You May Not Feel Full After Eating

Brain Hunger: obesity or genetics?

Key points

  • Brain hunger occurs when the dopamine signaling in your brain is impaired.
  • Genetics can contribute to not feeling full.
  • Obesity can change the brains hunger cues.
Cottonbro studio/pexels
Learn why you may not be able to stop eating your favorite foods.
Source: Cottonbro studio/pexels

Do you ever feel like no matter how much you eat, you're still not full? You may be suffering from a condition known as "brain hunger." This occurs when the dopamine signaling in your brain is impaired, making it difficult for your body to recognize when it has had enough food. Studies have shown that this can occur due to genetics and be amplified in the case of obesity, making it a vicious cycle of weight gain and not sensing fullness. In this article, we will explore the underlying causes of brain hunger and betters ways to understand what is happening.

Genetics can play a role in brain hunger. Research has shown that the dopamine receptor D4 gene may be responsible for regulating cognitive functions related to eating behavior and body weight. Some people have this gene mutation along the dopamine pathway that does not allow for a normal dopamine release in response to things that typically would increase dopamine, including food. Diminished dopamine inhibitory feedback associated with this gene can lead to weaker physiological dopamine signaling. This means that those individuals won't get the same "high" feeling they would normally experience when eating. In addition, studies have shown that lower DRD4 expression in the pre-frontal cortex can lead to higher food intake even when already satiated.

Obesity has also been linked to brain hunger. Brain scans of obese individuals show changes in dopamine signaling pathways which can lead to less recognition of the feeling of being full even after a meal. While it is still unclear whether obesity or genetics is the primary contributor to brain hunger, one thing is certain: weight loss alone may not be enough for those affected. Studies show that even with weight loss, these areas of the brain do not change. This could lead to continued hunger and weight regain.

So, what came first: genetics or obesity that caused this brain signaling change? It is possible that if someone has a genetic pre-disposition to this abnormal signaling, an environmental trigger can start a cascade of brain hunger which can lead to overeating. Permanent changes can be seen on brain scans.

Thankfully, there are treatments available to help manage this condition. Studies have found that certain medications, such as GLP-1 can alter dopamine signaling and help people recognize when they are full. It is also important to practice mindful eating and pay attention to hunger cues in order to begin recognizing the feeling of being full.

Brain hunger can be an uncomfortable and frustrating condition, but it is possible to manage through a combination of treatments. Keeping abreast of the latest research on brain hunger can help you make informed decisions about your own health. With the right approach, you can still enjoy the pleasure of food and recognize when you are full.


Portella AK, Papantoni A, Paquet C, Moore S, Rosch KS, Mostofsky S, et al. Predicted DRD4 prefrontal gene expression moderates snack intake and stress perception in response

Brain responses to nutrients are severely impaired and not reversed by weight loss in humans with obesity: a randomized crossover study” by Mireille Serlie et al. Nature Metabolism

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