Impulsivity and BMI

Contributed by Dr. Damian Rodriguez, DHSc, MS 

Weight management is all about behavioral change. This means being willing to change your lifestyle to include healthier daily habits and finding ways to address trigger points that can lead to unhealthy decisions. Some fascinating research suggests that a specific behavioral characteristic may be a risk factor for weight gain.

A total of 45 overweight individuals, aged 22–43, were recruited to participate in a study examining decision-making styles and risk for obesity.1 Researchers used a self-reporting questionnaire, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and neurophysical testing to gauge personality characteristics, principally the tendency to be cautious or impulsive. The collected data suggested a significant correlation between BMI and impulsivity, with individuals with high BMI exhibiting significantly altered neural function.


The fMRI results were the most telling. Activation of the temporal lobe and insula, the components of the brain responsible for inhibition, was negatively associated with BMI; those with the highest BMI showed the lowest levels of stimulation of these regions in response to the impulse control test. Likewise, there was a positive association exhibited between BMI and the right inferior frontal gyrus and right middle frontal gyrus, the areas that help regulate attentional control. The researchers hypothesized that the factor linking BMI and brain change would be an impaired ability to inhibit impulses; however, the results showed that the impulsivity was inherent and not situation specific.

Many of the characteristics that promote weight gain are indeed hard-wired into our brains, but the research does offer a bright side. These traits can, to an extent, be repressed through learning coping mechanisms and specific cognitive strategies to address impulsive decision-making. We all have the ability to improve and make these daily healthy lifestyle decisions easier.


doTERRA Science blog articles are based on a variety of scientific sources. Many of the referenced studies are preliminary and further research is needed to gain greater understanding of the findings. Some articles offer multiple views on general health topics and are not the official position of doTERRA. Consult your healthcare provider before making changes to diet or exercise.

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