You're on a diet, but when one of your office mates suddenly offers you slice of cake, you find yourself torn between eating it and sticking to your diet. This internal struggle isn’t just your personal angel and devil playing tug-of-war; researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) recently discovered that it’s actually caused by groups of neural processes vying for mental supremacy.

Featured on ScienceDaily.com, the study involved 26 people who volunteered to refrain from eating for four hours before the experiment. Once they dove in, they were presented with an array of food from chips to vegetables, while a functional magnetic resource imaging (fMRI) was then set to monitor their brain activity as they decided on what to eat, how much to eat, and how much they were willing to pay for food.

The results showed activity in two different areas of the brain--the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) which is just behind your temples, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) which is in the middle of your forehead. Interestingly, the dlPFC pilots when participants were trying to control their urges, while the vmPFC takes the lead when they were allowed to indulge.

"This research suggests a reason why it feels so difficult to control your behavior. You've got these really fast signals that say, go for the tempting food. But only after you start to go for it are you able to catch yourself and say, no, I don't want this," lead study author Cendri Hutcherson explains.

To eat or not to eat may be a difficult question to answer. You may let your inner food devil run around once in a while, but consciously choosing to eat healthy may help you stay hale and hearty in the long run, so always remember to pick the right kind of diet that suits your body’s needs.

(Photo by Edwart Visser via Flickr Creative Commons)

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