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The Weird Reason You’re Packing on the Pounds


Your barking back could lead to a bulging gut. Back pain might screw with the parts of your brain that help control how much you eat , research out of the Yale University School of Medicine suggests. 

In the study, people with chronic low back pain showed less pleasure when sampling pudding than pain-free patients did—though their tasting sensitivity was just as keen. 

Later on, when both groups were allowed to eat as much of the tasty treats as they desired, they ended up consuming the same amount of calories. But for people with back pain, how much they ate didn’t depend on how much they actually liked the pudding, as it did for the healthy people. Plus, their hunger ratings didn’t drop afterwards.

This blunted enjoyment and the out-of-whack satiety signals can spell trouble for your waistline. Back pain has previously been linked to packing on the pounds, but researchers believed it was because the patients moved less for fear of exacerbating their pain. But there really hasn’t been enough evidence to back that up, says study author Paul Geha, M.D.

Instead, it looks like it may have more to do something called anhedonia, or the inability or decreased ability to enjoy food. People with back pain show heightened activity and changes in connectivity in two key areas of the brain that are linked to reward and punishment. 

“The chronic pain experience taxes the areas regulating pleasure and pain,” Dr. Geha explains. And this can affect their food-related decision-making process, making them more likely to overeat to try to reach the level of reward.

It’s also possible that back pain patients experience a disruption in the pathways that connect their brain to their gut, which can throw off their satiety signals and cause them to eat too much, he says. 

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So what’s a guy with an aching back to do? It’s possible that treating your condition and getting your pain under control could get your brain back on track, says Dr. Geha, whose team is looking to study that in the future.

In the meantime, see your doctor about any persistent back pain, and keep a watchful eye on your snacking. Guys with low back pain are especially at risk of overeating high-fat and high-sugar foods, says Dr. Geha. So make sure you’re not mindlessly gobbling those kinds of things down. 

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