Weight Issues

Unlike traditional psychiatry, which rarely looks at the brain, Amen Clinics uses brain imaging technology to help identify underlying brain dysfunction that may be contributing to weight problems and obesity.

What are Weight Issues?

If you are on a diet right now, you are not alone! Unfortunately, losing weight and gaining it back (yo-yo dieting) is a vicious cycle that leaves millions of people frustrated and unhappy. In spite of what the $20 billion weight-loss industry wants you to think, traditional and fad diets simply do not work. Did you know that as the size of your waistline goes up, the size of your brain goes down? In other words, the more overweight you are, the greater the stress on your physiology—particularly the increased inflammation in your body—which affects the volume of the grey matter between your ears, in addition to putting you at risk for serious medical problems.

Who is Affected?

If you’re overweight or obese, you’re not alone. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), an astonishing 69% of adults are overweight or obese, with nearly 79 million Americans classified as obese—that’s more than 1/3 of adults! Even more startling is that 1/3 of all American children are overweight, and 17% of them are classified as obese!

What are the Symptoms?

Body mass index (BMI) is a measurement that compares weight to height. An optimal BMI is between 18.5 and 25; the overweight range falls between 25 and 30; over 30 indicates obesity, and over 40 indicates morbid obesity. Just Google “BMI Calculator” and fill in your height and weight to determine your BMI. If your BMI is above the healthy range, if you are unable to maintain a healthy BMI, if you have trouble following a diet, or if you have tried dieting but haven’t been able to lose weight, you may need help.

What Causes It?

Unfortunately, most people have trouble losing weight and keeping it off. That’s because traditional and fad diets ignore one key factor: the brain. Giving everyone the same weight-loss plan will never work. Based on our brain imaging work with tens of thousands of patients, there are 5 types of overeaters and each type needs its own weight-loss plan with targeted nutritional recommendations. See below on this page to learn more about the different types.

Consequences of untreated weight issues include:

  • Depression & Anxiety
  • Panic Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Agoraphobia (Fear Of Going Out)
  • Low Self-Esteem
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Stroke & Heart Disease
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Addictions
  • Suicidal Thoughts

Why Choose Amen Clinics for Treating Weight Loss and Nutrition?

The Amen Clinics Method—developed through 30 years of clinical practice—uses a detailed clinical history, SPECT imaging to understand brain function, neuropsychological testing and laboratory studies to target treatment specifically to your brain using the least toxic, most effective means. By discovering your particular brain type, we get very important information that helps us create the best nutrition and lifestyle plan for your type and the best strategies to enhance your brain so you can stick with that plan to help you lose weight, become healthier, increase your energy and optimize your brain function.

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Overweight and Obese Brains Work Differently

People who struggle with their weight often have underlying brain issues that prevent them from following a healthy eating plan. Until the brain is optimized, it will be difficult to stick with a good diet. The 5 types of overeaters are associated with specific brain patterns. The most common brain SPECT finding in Type 1: Compulsive Overeaters is increased activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG), which is commonly caused by low levels of serotonin. Type 2: Impulsive Overeaters typically have too little activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). In Type 3: Impulsive-Compulsive Overeaters, there is a combination of low PFC activity and high ACG activity. Common SPECT findings in Type 4: Sad or Emotional Overeaters include excessive activity in the limbic system. Increased activity in the basal ganglia is typically seen in Type 5: Anxious Overeaters.

Ready to learn more? Speak to a care coordinator today!

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The Five Types of Overeaters

Our SPECT imaging work has shown us that there are multiple types of overeaters. Some are compulsive and others are impulsive. Some people are both. Some eat to improve their mood and other to calm their worries. Read below to learn more about the five types.

Type 1: Compulsive Overeaters

People with this type tend to get stuck on thoughts of food. They hear the ice cream in the freezer calling their name… over and over and over again. They often feel compulsively driven to eat and might say they have no control over food. They also tend to be nighttime eaters because they worry and have trouble sleeping.

Compulsive overeaters tend to get stuck on thoughts or locked into one course of action. They often:

  • Get stuck on thoughts about food
  • Get stuck on their worries
  • Are rigid and inflexible
  • Have trouble seeing options
  • Hold grudges
  • Are oppositional or argumentative 
  • Feel like they MUST have things their way, or they get upset 

In addition, learning how to get “unstuck” from their thoughts about food and worries is very helpful. 

Type 2: Impulsive Overeaters

People with this type struggle with impulsivity and have trouble controlling their behavior, even though they may begin each day with good intentions:

  • They don’t think about food constantly, but whenever they see something they like, they can’t resist
  • They have a hard time saying “no” even if they aren’t really hungry
  • They have a hard time bypassing a second—or third or fourth—slice of pizza, piece of cake, or helping of mashed potatoes.

Impulsive overeating is common among people who have ADD, which has also been associated with low dopamine levels in the brain. People with ADD struggle with:

  • A short attention span
  • Distractibility
  • Disorganization
  • Impulsivity

Research suggests that having untreated ADD nearly doubles the risk for being overweight. Without proper treatment, it is nearly impossible for these people to be consistent with any nutrition plan.

Impulsive overeating may also be the result of some form of toxic exposure, a near-drowning accident, a brain injury to the front part of the brain, or a brain infection, such as chronic fatigue syndrome. Overweight smokers and heavy coffee drinkers also tend to fit this type.

Impulsive overeating may worsen with food or treatment that boosts serotonin because this neurotransmitter calms the brain and although it can decrease worries it also decreases impulse control.

Things that deplete dopamine levels are also a problem, so we help impulsive overeaters by boosting dopamine levels and strengthening the prefrontal cortex.

Type 3: Impulsive-Compulsive Overeaters

People with this type have a combination of both impulsive and compulsive features. On the surface it seems almost contradictory, but people can be both impulsive and compulsive at the same time (think of the compulsive gambler, who cannot stop focusing on placing a bet and has no restraint to prevent him from doing it).

  • These people often think about food all day long
  • Many people with bulimia have this type
  • This type is particularly common in children and grandchildren of alcoholics or people who have a significant family history of alcoholism

Type 4: Sad or Emotional Overeaters

People with this type tend to use food to medicate underlying feelings of sadness and to calm the emotional storms in their brains. They often struggle with:

  • Boredom
  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Pain issues
  • Decreased libido
  • Periods of crying
  • Low energy levels
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Lack of interest in usually pleasurable activities
  • Feelings of guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, or worthlessness

For some people, these feelings come and go with the seasons and tend to worsen in winter. Others experience mild feelings of chronic sadness, called dysthymia. Still others suffer from more serious depressions. This type is more frequently seen in women.

Type 5: Anxious Overeaters

People with this type tend to use food to medicate their feelings of

  • Anxiety
  • Tension
  • Nervousness
  • Fear

They may be plagued by feelings of panic and self-doubt, and suffer physical symptoms of anxiety, such as:

  • Muscle tension
  • Nail biting
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore muscles

It is as if anxious overeaters have an overload of tension and emotion. They tend to predict the worst and often complain of waiting for something bad to happen. They may be excessively shy, easily startled, and freeze in emotionally charged situations.

Certain behaviors and substances can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and make anxious overeaters more likely to eat in an attempt to make those feelings go away. For example:

  • Focusing on the negative
  • Believing every negative thought they have
  • Too much caffeine or other stimulating substances
  • Drinking alcohol


“With A Better Brain Comes A Better Life”

– Daniel G. Amen, M.D.


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