Binge eating tied to habit circuits in the brain

The same neural circuitry involved in habit formation underlies binge eating disorders, according to a new study.

Habits are like shortcuts for our brains. Once we form a habit—say, putting on a seat belt whenever we get into a car—the behavior becomes almost automatic in the right context. But habit formation isn’t always a boon.

Using brain imaging, researchers saw differences in the neural circuitry that promotes habit formation in people with binge eating disorders, which involves consuming excessive amounts of food in a short time period.

The differences were more pronounced in those with more severe disorders. The habitual element of these conditions, the researchers say, could be part of the reason they are so hard to treat.

“A habit is a learned association. Maybe initially the behavior started to achieve a goal, but eventually you’ve done it so many times that you do the action without thinking about the outcome,” says Allan Wang, a medical student at the Stanford School of Medicine and lead author of the study, which appears in Science Translational Medicine.

“We were interested in whether habit formation in the brain might be involved in a complicated behavior like binge eating,” Wang says.

Binge eating disorders seem to have the hallmarks of habits. Episodes can be triggered by context, whether external, like the smell of food or an enticing advertisement, or internal, like feelings of sadness or frustration. People with these disorders also report feeling a loss of control over the behavior, which happens in maladaptive habits ranging from nail biting to drug addiction.

It wasn’t known, however, whether these disorders stemmed from the neural circuitry of habits.

To find out, the researchers first analyzed MRI scans from the Human Connectome Project, a large-scale venture that the National Institutes of Health sponsors, to map the brain circuits that underlie human behaviors. They focused on a region called the striatum, previously implicated in habits, and a particular part of the striatum called the sensorimotor putamen, which connects to brain regions that govern sensation and movement. Based on these connections, they hypothesized that the sensorimotor putamen would be key to habitual behavior.

Next, the researchers collected fMRI data, which measures brain activity, from 34 people who had been diagnosed with a binge eating disorder and from 22 healthy controls. All the participants were female. They answered questions about the frequency of their binges and whether they were driven by external or internal factors.

Compared with healthy controls, people with binge eating disorders had notable differences in the sensorimotor putamen’s neuronal connections with several brain regions—confirming the researchers’ hypothesis. They had stronger connections with the motor cortex, which is involved in movement, and the orbitofrontal cortex, involved in evaluating reward value, such as how good a food tastes. They had weaker connections with the anterior cingulate cortex, which regulates self-control.

The extent of the deviations reflected the severity of their disorder, regardless of whether the binges were externally or internally driven.

“Possibly, there’s some loss of self-regulation of this behavior,” Wang says. “At the same time, there’s increased strength of circuits involved in the motor behavior of binge eating.”

Further imaging studies revealed that patients with more altered habit circuitry also had less dopamine binding, or sensitivity to dopamine, in these brain regions. That hints at a mechanism underlying these abnormalities: The sensorimotor putamen uses dopamine, a neurotransmitter, to communicate with the cortex, so changes to dopamine sensitivity can alter these connections, Wang says. And decreased dopamine sensitivity can result from prolonged high levels of dopamine during repeated exposure to rewarding stimuli.

“Our findings suggest that the more dopamine exposure these patients have had in the context of binge eating, the more altered their overall habit circuit connectivity is,” he says.

It’s likely that the habit circuitry is also a factor in addiction and other psychiatric disorders, Wang says. Understanding how neuronal connections go awry in these conditions could guide targeted therapies, such as deep brain stimulation, which uses electric currents applied to the brain to alter neural activity.

“I think there’s also some mental benefit for patients in being able to reframe these behaviors as rooted in habit,” Wang says. “Eating disorders are not a fault of their personality. They’re related to physical changes in the brain.”

Whether people with binge eating disorders are more inclined toward other habits, good or bad, is an open question. “But it’s interesting to think about,” he says.

Source: Stanford University


Colorado’s Deion Sanders delivers powerful message about ‘success’ in first meeting with ‘new team’

In Colorado’s first official team meeting following a mass exodus of players into the transfer portal, Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders delivered a powerful message to his team about achieving “success” and making it to the NFL. 

Sanders, who previously served as head coach at Jackson State, has seen nearly 50 players leave the team since his arrival in December and more than 70 in total enter the transfer portal since August, according to ESPN.

AD Rick George and Deion Sanders talk

Deion Sanders, CUs new head football coach, and athletic director Rick George, right, chat in the Arrow Touchdown Club during a press conference on Dec. 4, 2022 in Boulder, Colorado. (Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

However, despite the massive overhaul, Sanders is still committed to turning around a program that went just 1-11 last season.  


“Success is something, really a quality or goal that you set for yourself and you achieve it or obtain it – through discipline and routine. That’s success,” Sanders said in a video posted to the YouTube account “Well Off Media,” which is run by his son.  

“I want every last one of you, including the coaches, to have success and to be successful. But that’s a whole different thing than winning.”

Deion Sanders at spring game

Colorado Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders watches as his team warms up prior to their spring game at Folsom Field on April 22, 2023 in Boulder, Colorado. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

“Winning and success [are] two different things,” he continued. “Winning is something you do that affects the other men. Because success doesn’t do that.” 


“But we gotta win. That’s the goal.” 

Sanders is well aware of what it takes to be successful, but even as a two-time Super Bowl champion, eight-time Pro Bowler, and one-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Sanders cautioned his players that success is not defined by turning pro. 

“You are here for a common goal, and that’s to win and for you to have success,” he said.

“I want all of y’all to go to pro but nine times out of 10 that ain’t going to happen. But that does not negate the fact that you could be successful. The richest men in America never played ball.”

Deion Sanders coaches during the Spring Game

Colorado head coach Deion Sanders plays to the fans in the first half of the team’s spring practice NCAA college football game Saturday, April 22, 2023, in Boulder, Colorado. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)


Despite the roster shakeup, expectations are still high for Sanders. Just last week, Colorado sold 11,273 single-game tickets, the largest one-day total for individual games in team history. The university previously sold out of its season-ticket allotment for the first time since 1996. 

“Let’s work on dominating and it starts today,” Sanders said during the meeting. “Be on time, be aware, do what you’re supposed to do, and let’s do this thing.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Elon Musk says Twitter has 'no actual choice' about government censorship requests

New York

Criticized for giving into governments’ censorship demands, Elon Musk on Sunday claimed that Twitter has “no actual choice” about complying those requests.

The comment comes after Musk has previously called himself a “free speech absolutist” and said he wanted to buy Twitter to bolster users’ ability to speak freely on the platform. Shortly after agreeing to acquire Twitter, Musk explained his approach to free speech by saying: “Is someone you don’t like allowed to say something you don’t like? And if that is the case, then we have free speech.”

He added at the time that Twitter would “be very reluctant to delete things” and “be very cautious with permanent bans,” and that the platform would aim to allow all legal speech.

But Musk has faced blowback in recent weeks for appearing to cave to government censorship demands, including by removing some accounts and tweets at the behest of the government of Turkey ahead of the country’s elections (which the company later said it would attempt to fight in court). And in an interview with the BBC last month, Musk was asked about whether Twitter had removed a documentary about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the request of the Indian government, and said he didn’t know “what exactly happened.”

Bloomberg columnist Matthew Yglesias on Sunday tweeted an article suggesting that Twitter has complied with a majority of government takedown requests since Musk took over as the platform’s owner. Musk replied: “Please point out where we had an actual choice and we will reverse it.”

Musk has previously said the company would comply with laws governing social media companies around the world, although such laws in some cases appear to conflict with his free speech vision. Twitter did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

In last month’s interview with the BBC, Musk said, “the rules in India for what can appear on social media are quite strict, and we can’t go beyond the laws of a country … If we have a choice of either our people go to prison or we comply with the laws, we will comply with the laws.” At another point in the interview, Musk said: “If people of a given country are against a certain type of speech, they should talk to their elected representatives and pass a law to prevent it.”

“By ‘free speech,’ I simply mean that which matches the law,” Musk said in a tweet last year about his vision for Twitter. “I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law.”

In some countries, Twitter could risk substantial fines and other penalties — including, potentially, bans of the platform — for not complying with local laws.

However, prior to Musk’s takeover, Twitter frequently fought government takedown requests in court, including from India and Turkey, in addition to publicly releasing detailed information about such requests and how it handled them. In many cases, Twitter led the charge among social media companies in protecting its users’ rights around the world.

In last recent removal request report before Musk’s takeover, Twitter said it received more than 47,000 removal requests between July and December 2021, and complied with 51% of them. In many cases, when it did comply with a removal request because of a certain country’s laws, it removed the violating content only in that country, rather than globally.

Musk was also criticized for backing down on his “free speech” vision when Twitter temporarily banned the accounts of several high-profile journalists in December, claiming that they had violated a new “doxxing” policy on the site. None of the banned journalists appeared to have shared Musk’s precise real-time location — the restrictions came after they reported on Twitter’s removal of an account that posts the updated location of Musk’s private jet.