The Cortical Homunculus

Sensory Homunculus

Motor Homunculus

Remember these weird looking humans from neuro A&P class? In the 1940s Dr. Wilder Penfield used electric shocks on people and then asked where they felt the sensation. Based on his research he drew this funny homunculus, or “little man” in Latin, showing how much sensory and motor brainpower is dedicated to a body part. You can see A LOT  is dedicated to our lips, mouth and tongue!

The primitive brain rules our habit loops. So . . . . the habits that support overeating and eating calorically dense sugary food because it tastes, smells, and feels awesome it is FULLY supported by this “little man”.

This “little man” developed so we wouldn’t eat things that smell bad, feel gross, taste awful or harm us.


We now live in a modern world that doesn’t sell ugly looking, bad tasting, gross feeling, terrible smelling food. Well, maybe Spam.

The food sold now looks beautiful, smells terrific, feels wonderful and tastes marvelous to the “little man” in our brain.

It is our choice to not overeat and feed this “little man” just because he evolved this way.

These are some triggers employed by food marketing that turn on my “little man” and engage my primitive brain overeating habits:

  • The diffusing hoagie scent outside Subway stores – like a tiny whiff of crack cocaine each time I pass.
  • Hot rotisserie chicken wafting its smell by grocery store checkouts.
  • Food-tasting stations inside stores.
  • Fast food commercials on at 5 am when I am at the gym.
  • Snack food packaging emitting an audible “I’m here snacking on something sweet, sugary, salty and crunchy!” sound, announcing its presence to my nearby primitive brain.

The food industry has mastered how to stimulate our food-related sensory input! My primitive brain immediately thinks – “Go get that torso sized bag of potato chips now!”

But, I can choose to think – “Wait, What? Is this going to help me lose weight?” NO!! This thought helps me deal with the urge to buy the torso bag of potato chips until it goes away in 10-30 seconds.

I have to practice watching my “little man” having a fit until he gets tired and settles down in 10-30 seconds. I can do anything for 30 seconds, right?

Interestingly, the disease diagnosed by Penfield’s homunculus is phantom pain. Despite missing a limb the brain still feels its presence. I postulate that even though we choose to not eat unhealthy foods our brain will always remember eating them, this is why our urge to overeat unhealthy foods will never completely go away.

And this is why I need to choose again and again what I should be eating.


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