How Obesity Dulls Your Sense of Taste

June 20, 2018

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blog_tastebudsWhen asked to list some of the greatest joys in life, most people might agree that delicious food ranks near the top. There are few things better than sinking your chops into a delectable meal. The flavor, texture, and ultimately, the satisfaction it brings.
But as with anything in life, there ultimately can be too much of a good thing. Overindulging in food can lead to excessive weight gain, which can ultimately result in the development of obesity and other chronic disease. You might be surprised to learn that weight gain have another pleasure-stealing side effect that impacts your taste buds. Unfortunately, for people suffering from obesity, it might take more than the average amount of food to derive the same pleasure.

It’s a terribly vicious cycle. Excessive weight can lead to the destruction of the sensitivity of taste buds, which prompts overeating to compensate for lack of taste. This then leads to more weight gain and further destruction of your sense of taste.

Taste Buds in People Suffering from Obesity

The average person has between 2000-10000 taste buds, and the sensory cells in taste buds go through a process of destruction and reformation every week. Typically, as people get older, these sensory cells begin to dull and renew at a slower rate.  A 2018 study performed on mice and published by the PLOS Biology journal showed that being overweight can have this same effect on taste buds. The overweight mice ended the eight-week study with 25% fewer taste buds than the lean, nutritionally-balanced mice. The inflammation due to extra weight, not an unhealthy diet or constant eating, directly caused the dulling of taste.

This study is consistent with recent scientific discoveries regarding cell regeneration. Fatty tissue secretes protein that increases rate of cell death and decreases cell regeneration. As people gain weight and begin suffering from obesity, their bodies may be unable to replace the destroyed sensory cells in their taste buds. Unfortunately, that is when the eating overcompensation tendencies can kick in.

A closer look at the cycle

Let’s take a closer look at how the cycle might work using strawberries as an example. Strawberries are a low-calorie healthy food, but we’ll use them because of their flavor.

A 45-year old woman of healthy weight who has never had a strawberry before all of a sudden discovers them. She takes that first ever bite and her taste buds go wild. She continues to eat them in a chase to continually reproduce that initial pleasure. After overindulging in strawberries she finds she has gained some weight. She also finds that the pleasure she once took in the taste of strawberries is eluding her. To make up for it, she eats more of them to finally feel satisfied. But this has also resulted in additional weight gain, which then forces her to eat even larger amounts of strawberries. She might also even start seeking “strawberry flavored” food and drinks, which are packed with high-caloric sugars, to achieve that food “high.”

Of course no one should be deprived of the pleasure of food. But is it possible to return to the experience of that first bite when the cycle gets out of control? The answer is absolutely yes.

Reset your taste buds

The best approach to resetting your taste buds is getting out of the cycle through a combination of meal replacement therapy and behavioral counseling. One of the biggest causes of overindulging and weight gain is the high number of choices, which we see in food advertising and the supermarket every day. To combat this, meal replacement therapy utilizes stimulus narrowing, or the approach of limiting choices and overall intake of calories. Without the encouragement to eat more, you will get your weight back on track and your taste buds will follow suit.

It may take a holistic approach for you to feel comfortable navigating all the choices in the supermarket. This is where behavioral counseling comes into play. By understanding the root causes of your weight challenges, you can make better decisions when it comes to what you decide to eat, how much, and when. As you lose weight and strengthen your taste buds, you won’t feel a need to chase that strawberry taste by eating more of them. To fully enjoy your food every day, break the cycle of weight gain, and take a bite out of life instead.

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