Do you ever notice how just looking at a picture of a chocolate cake on the menu makes you want to order one too? According to a recent study presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, the part of your brain that caters to reward and appetite control actually lights up when you look at pictures of decadent desserts.

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Researchers recruited 13 obese Hispanic women and showed them pictures of various sweet treats, like cupcakes, chocolate cake, and chocolate chip cookies. The participants were then asked to rate their appetite before and after seeing the images. Results revealed that their appetite was stronger after the experiment. Not only that, but the study also provided proof that the regions of the brain linked to reward and appetite were lit up as well.

In another experiment, researchers gave participants a sugary drink (approximately 200 calories) and repeated the process of scanning their brains and showing them pictures of tasty treats. The results were unexpected. Instead of reducing their appetite, the sugary drink merely made it stronger.

"Surprisingly, consumption of the sugar drink--which was essentially equivalent to a 16-ounce soda--actually increased the ratings of hunger and desire," says Dr. Kathleen Page, a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California. "We didn’t predict a hunger increase with the sugar drink. Apparently the brain saw it as an appetizer."

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If that is the case, then it’s no wonder everyone seems to be struggling with their weight. With food ads left and right, staying away from temptation may prove to be near impossible. Still, you may want to resist poring over the menu photos the next time you're out at a restaurant and instead consulting dish descriptions or your server to determine your order. And much as you may love browsing through food blogs, it may be a good idea to do so after you have eaten so the chances of overindulging might be reduced.

(Photo by Food Thinker via Flickr Creative Commons)

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