Nervous eaters might be on to something.

A new study by the Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute has found that weight loss can be predicted by baseline resting muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA). People with higher resting nerve activity saw significantly greater success during a 12-week dietary weight-loss program.

“Our findings provide two opportunities,” said Nora Straznicky, Ph.D., a scientific staff member at the Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia and lead author of the study. “First, we may be able to identify those persons who would benefit most from lifestyle weight-loss interventions, such as dieting. Secondly, the findings may also help in developing weight-loss treatments through stimulating this specific nervous activity."

Researchers examined 42 overweight or obese subjects who had participated in dietary-lifestyle intervention trials that cut their daily caloric intake by 30 percent for 12 weeks. Resting MSNA was measured using microneurography, which involves inserting metal microelectrodes, a bundle of nerve fibers. The sympathetic nervous system plays a pivotal role in regulating metabolism.

"We also found that successful weight losers demonstrated large increases in nerve activity following a carbohydrate test meal, whereas the responses were completely blunted in weight-loss resistant subjects," said Straznicky. "Our findings suggest a significant contribution of subconscious nervous system activity to the success of dietary weight loss."

The study will be published in the February, 2012, issue of The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.