You can train your brain to prefer healthy foods, like kale and cantaloupe, rather than unhealthy foods, like cookies and fries. A study completed by researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and at Massachusetts General Hospital demonstrated brain changes suggesting it is possible to reverse the addictive power of unhealthy foods and increase the preference for healthy food.
The SAD diet, or the Standard American Diet, trains our brains to prefer unhealthy foods that are high in fat, sugar and calories. This training happens over time as we eat toxic foods like cheeseburgers, ice cream, pizza, steak and potatoes, pastries, candy bars and chips. The food industry has hijacked our taste buds and explains why we prefer a donut over an apple. Our food cravings mean huge profits for those companies, but it has left our population obese and sick.
The study included overweight and obese men and women. Some of the participants followed a new Tufts designed weight loss program. The others were considered the control group. Both groups underwent brain scans (MRI) at the beginning of the study and six months later. At the end of the study, the brain scans for those in the weight loss group showed increased sensitivity to healthier foods and a decreased sensitivity to unhealthy foods in the reward center of the brain. While this is a small study, the results are promising for those who struggle with weight loss and food addictions. While the brain changes were recorded after 6 months most reported their food preferences changed after just two weeks.
One male participant said his brain was retrained and he lost 75 lbs, going from 291 to 216. He used to crave steak, potatoes, things covered in butter, pizza, and cookies. After the study he craved asparagus, beans, squash and blackberries. Study participants ate a diet that placed an emphasis on behavior change, high fiber, and low glycemic menu plans.
Behavior modification is also important. Consider these factors to enable change:
- Self-Monitoring of what, when and where you eat, along with thoughts and feelings you were experiencing while eating. Record what you eat in the Rolling Strong application.
- Regular weight checks to develop a better relationship with the scale and acknowledge progress.
- Stimulus control by eliminating trigger foods at home, in your vehicle, or in your office.
- Identification of triggers that cause you to overeat like stress, boredom, or loneliness.
- Meal planning to enable success and prevent hunger. Cooking and meal prep are key.
- Self-esteem and confidence building to help you tackle and manage the change.
Authors of the study agree that behavior change was a key element to success for participants. Motivation is key. If you are 100% ready to lose weight, take back your health and improve your quality of life, you can be successful. Talk to others who have lost weight. They will say that their tastes changed and they now crave kale salads, salmon, and steel cut oats.
Choose a category of food to eliminate from your diet. Processed junk food is always a great place to start. Replace that candy bar with an apple and peanut butter (all natural). Make a healthy smoothie in the morning rather than downing the sugary cereal. Set yourself up for success with some meal prep, controlling your environment by getting the junk out of your house or vehicle, and shopping for healthier snack options. Give yourself two weeks without the highly processed, low nutrition, high calorie, loaded with fat and sugar foods. Chances are you will retrain your brain to prefer more natural foods.
If you are struggling to lose weight, and keep it off, this study should inspire you. Find a diet that seems manageable, consider behavior modification, commit for a few weeks, and retrain your brain to prefer healthy foods that nourish and keep your weight at the right number. Talk to your Rolling Strong Health Coach about a strategy to help train your brain to like whole, healthy foods.
by Christy Coughlin