Food choices constitute a classic self-control dilemma involving the trade-off between immediate eating enjoyment and the long term goal of being slim and healthy, especially for weight-concerned women. For them, decision-making concerning high (HE) and low energy (LE) snacks differs when it comes to the need for self-control. In line, our first study aim was to investigate which brain regions are activated during food choices during HE compared to LE energy snacks in weight-concerned women. Since it is particularly difficult to resist HE snacks when they are very tasty, our second aim was to investigate in which brain regions choice-related activation varies with the food's tastiness. Our third aim was to assess in which brain regions choice-related activation varies with individual differences in self-regulatory success. To this end, 20 weight-concerned women indicated for 100 HE or LE snacks whether they wanted to eat them or not, while their brains were scanned using fMRI. HE snacks were refused more often than equally-liked LE snacks. HE snack choice elicited stronger activation in reward-related brain regions [medial to middle orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), caudate]. Highly tasty HE snacks were more difficult to resist and, accordingly, activation in inhibitory areas (inferior frontal gyrus, lateral OFC) was negatively associated with tastiness. More successful self-controllers showed increased activation in the supplementary motor area during HE food choices. In sum, the results suggest that HE snacks constitute a higher reward for weight-concerned women compared to (equally-liked) LE snacks, and that activation during food choice in brain regions involved in response inhibition varied with tastiness and individual differences in self-regulatory success. These findings advance our understanding of the neural correlates of food choice and point to new avenues for investigating explanations for self-regulatory failure.
Keywords: dietary restraint; fMRI; food choice; orbitofrontal cortex; self-regulation; supplementary motor area (SMA).