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The #1 Thing That Drives Your Weight Gain, Says New Study

Your eyes and your stomach are more connected than you may realize.

McDonald's. The overly oily and buttery foods served at your favorite restaurant. Portion sizes. Refined sugars. Your own fundamental lack of discipline. Anyone who has tried to lose a few extra pounds knows that the bad foods and temptations standing between you and the body you always wanted are countless and seemingly insurmountable. But, according to a new study released in the academic journal NeuroImage, the single biggest weight-loss villain you face every day is so painfully obvious you've likely overlooked it all along: Your eyes.

"We found that weight loss is not merely a matter of willpower," writes Gidon Levakov, a graduate student who led the study. "But [it] is actually connected to much more basic visual and olfactory cues."

The researchers, based out of the Department of Epidemiology at Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, tracked 92 individuals trying to lose weight over the course of 18 months by adopting variations of the Mediterranean diet. To help them along the way, the test subjects were given free gym memberships and access to "moderate-intensity aerobic classes."

At the beginning of their journey—and after a six-month follow-up to gauge their progress—the participants underwent a series of MRI scans and "behavioral executive function" tests as the scientists explored deeper into the "gut-brain" interactions associated with the "control of appetite."

Ultimately, the researchers uncovered evidence of a "brain subnetwork" that appears to have an outsize influence on one's ability to lose weight less successfully over time. Surprisingly, they discovered that the most active area of the brain associated with feelings of satiety and hunger was the visual cortex.

"It appears that visual information may be an important factor triggering eating," Prof. Galia Avidan, from the BGU Departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Psychology, told Neuroscience News. "This is reasonable, given that vision is the primary sense in humans."

Now, anyone who has ever looked at a juicy cheeseburger and instantly felt their mouth water can confirm that your eyes do indeed speak directly with your desire to eat. But the findings are interesting nonetheless, as researchers expand their knowledge of why humans become obese, and why our bodies behave the way they do when we're trying to go on a diet. So if you're looking to lose weight, be sure to rid your kitchen of any decadent items that might catch your eye—starting with the 50 Worst Ever Foods for Weight Loss!

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