7 September 2021

Your gut’s trying to tell you you look fine

The Back Page

“Listen to your heart,” Roxette advised back in 1988.

The Swedish popologists were no doubt anticipating this new study, published in Cortex, that found a link between how well your brain processes signals from your internal organs, such as the heart and gut – aka interoception – and your body image.

Namely, when you have weaker interoception, you’re more likely to have negative body image.

Previous research has already suggested this somewhat odd association, the team writes: less accurate interoception might mean exteroceptive (e.g., visual, tactile) cues contribute more to your body awareness, “which could, in turn, result in an excessive focus on the outward, aesthetic characteristics of the body and foster negative body image. Indeed, participants with body image disturbances and eating disorder symptomology have been found to prioritise exteroceptive cues over interoceptive cues in manipulations of body ownership, such as the rubber hand illusion …”

In this gif, Buster manifests weak implicit interoception

They took 36 adults of varying BMI and measured their “body appreciation”, “functionality appreciation”, “body shame” and “weight preoccupation” using validated scales.

They then measured two electrophysiological indices of interoceptive processing, the heartbeat evoked potential (HEP) and gastric-alpha phase-amplitude coupling (PAC).

They found strong, significant correlations between both HEP and PAC and body shame and weight preoccupation – the two negative body image measures – but found no association between the interoception markers and the positive body image measures, body appreciation and functionality appreciation.

The authors say, tentatively, “that stronger ascending gastric inputs could be associated with greater (e.g., stronger or more regular) activation of neural representations of the body, which could, in turn, be protective against the development of negative body image. A weaker connection between the stomach and the brain … could also indicate a less accurate perception of bodily cues,which could lead to high levels bodily uncertainty (e.g., regarding the perception of hunger and satiety signals). Excessive levels of bodily uncertainty could, in turn, lead to weight- and shape-related anxiety.”

The HEP and PAC have the potential to function as biomarkers for negative body image and help improve diagnosis of disorders, they write.

If you get a strong ascending gastric input about a story, tell felicity@medicalrepublic.com.au.

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