Can you train your brain to crave healthier food, like broccoli instead of burgers; fennel rather than French fries? According to a new study published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, eating a healthy, calorie-reduced diet may help increase your desire for healthier foods while reducing your desire for the unhealthiest choices.
Overweight and obese individuals have been shown to have a heightened reward centers in the brain, which makes high-cal foods appear more appealing and desirable. Many who struggle with their weight often complain of feeling “addicted” to sugar, fast food, pizza, baked goods, chocolate and sweets. Eating these foods have also been shown to act on areas of the brain that make them seem more appealing.
The study, conducted by Tufts University researchers, used MRI images of the brain while subjects were exposed to images of both healthy foods and high-calorie foods. Thirteen overweight and obese men and women served as subjects, and eight were part of a Tufts University weight loss program and five served as controls and received no dietary intervention. The subjects had MRI scans completed at the onset and at the end of the six-month study. The researchers would have the subjects look at images of low- and high-calorie foods and monitor the activity of the brain.
The diet program from Tufts University involved counseling sessions with nutritionists and behavior modification techniques like portion-control, even spacing of meals, recipes featuring low-glycemic, fiber-rich carbs. The diet plan did NOT include high-glycemic carbs like processed grain-based foods, white bread, and sweets. The macronutrient distribution was 25% each protein and fat and 50% low-GI carbs. After six months, the subjects following the diet program lost, on average, 14 pounds.
What’s more, in addition to losing weight, subjects in the weight loss arm of the study experienced changes in the brain that increased the desire for healthier foods while turning down their sensitivity toward unhealthy, high high-calorie foods that are often considered the most craveable.
Eating a clean, healthy diet can help you conquer cravings and out-of-control feelings you may have with some foods and beverages. And, since adherence to one’s healthy eating program is the most important factor for losing weight and keeping it off, if you can reduce your desire and cravings for unhealthy choices, it will be that much easier to stick with eating right. For other tricks on how to bolster your willpower, read this article.
Deckersbach T, Das SK, Urban LE, Salinardi T, Batra P, Rodman AM, Arulpragasam AR, Dougherty DD, Roberts SB. “Pilot randomized trial demonstrating reversal of obesity-related abnormalities in reward system responsivity to food cues with a behavioral intervention.” Nutrition & Diabetes. Published online ahead of print September 1, 2014. doi:10.1038/nutd.2014.26