OBJECTIVES: Strong reward responsiveness to food and insufficient inhibitory control are thought to be implicated in the development and maintenance of obesity. This narrative review addresses the role of inhibitory control in obesity and weight loss, and in how far inhibitory control is a promising target for weight loss interventions.
METHODS: PubMed, Web of Science, and Google Scholar were searched for papers up to May 2021. 41 papers were included.
RESULTS: Individuals with obesity have poorer food-specific inhibitory control, particularly when hungry, and less concurrent activation of inhibitory brain areas. Moreover, this was strongly predictive of future weight gain. More activation of inhibitory brain areas, on the other hand, was predictive of weight loss: individuals with successful weight loss initially show inhibitory brain activity comparable to that of normal weight individuals. When successful weight maintenance is achieved for at least 1 year, this inhibitory activity is further increased. Interventions targeting inhibitory control in obese individuals have divergent effects. Firstly, food-specific inhibitory control training is particularly effective for people with low inhibitory control and high BMI. Secondly, neuromodulation paradigms are rather heterogeneous: although rTMS to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex induced some weight-loss, multiple sessions of tDCS reduced food consumption (desire) and induced weight loss in two thirds of the papers. Thirdly, neurofeedback results in successful upregulation of brain activity and connectivity, but occasionally leads to increased food intake. In conclusion, inhibitory control is implicated in obesity. It can be targeted to promote weight loss although major weight losses have not been achieved.