What’s your favorite food?
How you answer that question probably isn’t only about how the food tastes but also the memories you associate with it.
For Andrew Hardaway, a research assistant professor in the UNC School of Medicine, his favorite food is mashed potatoes. Specifically, his mother’s mashed potatoes. He’ll make sure to go back for a second — or even a third — helping of them on Thanksgiving.
Hardaway researches how food interacts with the brain. He recently found that cells in the central amygdala — the area of the brain associated with memory, decision-making and emotional responses — drive the consumption of food after basic needs are met.
“At Thanksgiving, when you sit down and you think about your favorite food, think about how your amygdala is being activated in that moment,” Hardaway said.
It’s not something that most of us need to think about, but it’s crucial for helping treat people with binge eating disorders. In addition to eating a large amount of food in a short amount of time, binge eating is also associated with a loss of control of eating habits, which can ultimately lead to problems like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular issues.
Although there are some treatments and medications available, understanding what’s going on in the brain can help better treat people with binge eating and other food disorders.
“For those people, it’s very difficult to just flip a switch in their brain and change behaviors,” Hardaway said. “They need another tool in the toolbox, and that’s what we’re going to provide.”
On this week’s episode, Hardaway discusses his favorite Thanksgiving traditions and explains the differences between binge eating and the overeating we might do to celebrate the holiday.
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