We all know eating salad is better than eating candy bars, but you can’t control which foods you actually enjoy eating…or can you? This new study brings new meaning to brain food.
Shape Magazine recapped a recent study published by Nutrition & Diabetes explaining that it may be possible to neurologically reprogram your brain to prefer healthier foods. The study took 13 people and gave the first group a structured high protein, low glycemic index, low calorie diet while the second group could continue eating “normal” foods like pizza and potato chips. They took MRI scans of all participants before the study, then again six months later.
Both times, all participants were shown images of healthy foods and unhealthy foods, then they tracked and compared the neurological responses.
What did they find?
The first group, who had been eating healthier foods, showed increased sensitivity in the pleasure and addiction regions of the brain when shown pictures of healthy foods, and less sensitivity when shown pictures of higher calorie items like candy, ice cream, and fried chicken. Basically, those following the diet program had retrained their brain to actually prefer the healthier food items.
How did that happen?
This process of teaching your brain to make new associations with old things is called cognitive restructuring. This allows your brain to form new neurological pathways that change the way you think about any given item or food. Consistently reintroducing healthier food items over time allows your body and mind to rethink what it had previously thought about your diet. This means that you can truly learn to prefer eating delicious salads, baked chicken, and nutrient dense fruits and veggies over packaged, fried, and fatty foods. (FYI, the occasional trip to get fro-yo is still always allowed if not encouraged!)
How can you do it?
Eat When You’re Hungry. Haven’t you ever noticed that almost anything tastes better when you’re really hungry? There’s a reason for that. “Eating new, healthy foods when you’re hungry is really helpful because hunger pushes the new pathways along,” says study author Susan Roberts, Ph.D and senior scientist at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.
Stick With It and Adapt. Changing old habits can be tough, but stick with it. When you get a craving for something fatty, salty, or sweet, find healthier alternatives with recipe modifications so you’re not depriving yourself or ruining your hard work. Find out what your cravings really mean. Consistency is one of the only ways to permanently retrain your body and brain, without reverting back to your old unhealthy eating habits.