Pigging out on high fat foods could rapidly rewire the reward circuits in our brains leading to overeating after the binging is over, according to a new study on rat behaviour out of the University of Calgary's Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

Stephanie Borgland, an associate professor at the institute, says if humans behave the same way rats do, synapses in our brains could be modified by eating a lot of food high in fat in a short period of time.

"We show that when you pig out on something that is sweetened and high fat, that those synapses will change and that message will be strengthened and drive your food-seeking behaviour the rest of the week and make you eat more," said Borgland.

This could have serious, longer-term consequences.

Stephanie Borgland

Stephanie Borgland says willpower and keeping high-fat foods out of reach is a good start to avoid overeating. (CBC)

"It might have been beneficial in a time where there was not as much food around," she said. "But now that we are in an environment where there is lots of palatable food … it is going to lead us to overeat if those cues are always present."

Borgland says while there is more research to be done, there are some takeaways from the study.

A postdoctoral research fellow exams lab results

The study focused on the behaviour of rats when they were given a lot of high-fat foods in a short period of time. (CBC)

"We know that our reward system drives food-seeking and when the food is more palatable, obviously we are more motivated to get it. But we have to engage more inhibitory control mechanisms, like willpower, to stop us from eating," she said.

"That is a skill that we have to engage in now."

The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States on Monday.