Do you worry you’re stuck craving chips even when you know you should be eating healthily? Fear not: new research has shown that it’s possible to ‘retrain’ the brain to be addicted to low-calorie fare instead of junk food.
“We don't start out in life loving French fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta," said Susan B. Roberts, co-corresponding author of the study published on Monday in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes.
"This conditioning happens over time in response to eating – repeatedly! - what is out there in the toxic food environment."
The study put a group of obese volunteers through a six-month weight loss program while gauging their reaction to different foods, scanning the areas of the brain associated with learning and addiction using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
The researchers found that after a strict, six-month diet the participants’ brains responded more actively to healthier food cues and showed a “decreased sensitivity to the unhealthy higher-calorie foods”.
"The weight loss program is specifically designed to change how people react to different foods, and our study shows those who participated in it had an increased desire for healthier foods along with a decreased preference for unhealthy foods, the combined effects of which are probably critical for sustainable weight control," co-author Sai Krupa said in a press release.
"To the best of our knowledge this is the first demonstration of this important switch."
Details of the weight-loss regime are scarce but the researchers suggest that several factors were key to ‘reversing’ addiction including not only “high-fiber, low glycemic” foods but also “behaviour change education”.
Co-author Dr. Thilo Deckersbach said: "Although other studies have shown that surgical procedures like gastric bypass surgery can decrease how much people enjoy food generally, this is not very satisfactory because it takes away food enjoyment generally rather than making healthier foods more appealing."