People with Obesity, Anorexia Respond Differently to Taste

Two water glasses side by sidePeople with obesity or anorexia nervosa may respond differently to taste, according to a study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Eating issues pose a serious public health threat. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, eating disorders kill more people than any other mental health condition.

A 2009 American Journal of Psychiatry study found 4% of people with anorexia die from the condition. A 2013 American Journal of Public Health study linked 1 in 5 deaths to obesity. Obesity can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and other life-threatening health conditions.

Does Taste Lead to Unhealthy Eating Habits?

Researchers recruited 106 women of similar age to undergo brain scans while tasting either sugar water or flavorless water. They then observed the behavior of the brain’s insular cortex. This region is the brain’s primary taste cortex. They theorized the insular cortex might be less able to discern tastes in people with obesity and anorexia.

Women with obesity or anorexia nervosa were less adept at distinguishing between ordinary and sugar water. Women who had never had an eating disorder, as well as those who had recovered from anorexia, did not experience these difficulties.

The study did not directly test what caused these changes, but its authors propose some possibilities. Previous research suggests leptin, a hormone that aids in feelings of satiation, is altered in people with obesity and anorexia. This may change the way the brain responds to food.

Either structural changes within the insular cortex or altered neural processing could account for difficulties processing taste. People who reach a healthy weight no longer experience changes in leptin, suggesting this biochemical change can make it more difficult to overcome unhealthy eating habits.

One solution, the study’s authors say, is to increase flavor intensity for people with obesity and reduce it for those with anorexia.


  1. Eating disorders statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Hernandez, L. (2016, May 17). CU taste study may lead to new treatments for eating disorders. Retrieved from
  3. Laidman, J. (2013, August 15). Obesity’s toll: 1 in 5 deaths linked to excess weight. Retrieved from
  4. Obese or anorexic individuals react differently to taste, study says. (2016, May 16). Retrieved from

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  • greta


    May 18th, 2016 at 10:42 AM

    I fell into overeating as a way to deal with all of my problems that I had in life. When I didn’t know how to cope then I would eat, and literally eat until I became physically sick. But as I was eating I started to notice that this had nothing to do with how something tasted. It just became about not feeling what I was feeling anymore, making myself full and miserable and then that would cover up the actual emotional things that I was feeling. It really did become terrible and I gained so much weight and felt terrible about myself after that.
    I am currently in treatment and I am feeling better, somewhat, but there could still be those triggers that make me want to binge again.

  • Rylee


    May 19th, 2016 at 11:01 AM

    The sheer numbers when it comes to eating disorders is so frightening. I worry every day about my girls, the messages that they are receiving from society about their size and their own body image, cringing to think what some of this is doing to their morale and self esteem.

  • sean


    May 20th, 2016 at 2:18 PM

    Is the implication here that those with any eating disorder are looking for something from their food that the brain is not providing?

  • Jimmie


    May 21st, 2016 at 2:17 AM

    In July of 2015, it was discovered that I got type 2 diabetes. By the end of the July month, I was given a prescription for the Metformin. I stated with the ADA diet and followed it completely for several weeks but was unable to get my blood sugar below 140. Without results to how for my hard work, I really panicked and called my doctor. His response? Deal with it yourself. I started to feel that something wasn’t right and do my own research. Then I found Rachel’s great blog (google ” HOW I FREED MYSELF FROM THE DIABETES ” ) . I read it from cover to cover and I started with the diet and by the next morning, my blood sugar was 100. Since then, I get a fasting reading between the mid 70s and 80s. My doctor was very surprised at the results that, the next week, he took me off the Metformin drug. I lost 30 pounds in my first month and lost more than 6 inches off my waist and I’m able to work out twice a day while still having lots of energy. The truth is that we can get off the drugs and help myself by trying natural methods

  • Reese


    May 21st, 2016 at 4:27 PM

    so interesting how something like tase differential that seems so biological in nature to me can have such an impact on a disease that I am thinking has always been considered more like a mental or emotional thing

  • MichellE


    May 24th, 2016 at 10:35 AM

    Increased flavor could lead to greater satisfaction with what one eats?

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