Train your brain to crave healthy food!

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

dessert
Avoid sugary foods by training your brain to like healthy goodies.

We know it’s important to eat tons of fruits and veggies every day, while limiting our consumption of junk food and fats. You might do a pretty good job of eating healthy, but let’s be honest: sometimes it’s hard to ignore the strong craving for salt-laddered French fries, greasy hamburgers, and sugary cookies. Well, what if I told you it was possible to flip the switch and crave healthy food instead? According to a new study from Tufts University, all it takes is a little practice to do so!

Researchers showed 13 obese participants pictures of either low or high calorie meals (like a lean turkey sandwich or fast food), while scanning their brains in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. As the volunteers observed the photos, researchers carefully noted which foods activated the striatum – a region of the brain associated with pleasure and rewards. After the picture slideshow, 8 of the participants were randomly enrolled in a healthy diet program. They attended support groups and ate carefully portioned meals, while also reducing how many calories they consumed per day.

By the end of the six month program, the folks following a healthy diet lost an average of 15 whole pounds! But that’s not the best part of the study. When the researchers rescanned everyone’s brains, those who had done the diet program actually showed more activity in their striatum when looking at healthy foods as opposed to fatty foods. Those who didn’t get trained in healthy habits didn’t show this change; they continued to crave unhealthy foods!

So, how did the scientists pull this off? “We don’t start out in life loving french fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta,” said senior author Susan Roberts, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Energy Metabolism Laboratory. “This conditioning happens over time in response to eating – repeatedly – what is out there in the toxic food environment.” In other words, we have taught our bodies to crave junk food over time.

With a little effort, we can essentially train ourselves to do the same with healthy food!

Featured image courtesy of Amazing Almonds on Flickr. Image of dessert courtesy of John Liu on Flickr.