Scientists from Tufts University, U.S. have evidence to show the brain can be trained to prefer healthy food over unhealthy high calorie options.
According to the study, published in the journal Nutrition and Diabetes, no matter how deeply ingrained or intense food addictions are, they can be changed.
Explaining the nature of food addictions, senior study author and behavioural nutrition scientist, professor Susan B Roberts said: “We don’t start out in life loving French fries and hating, for example, whole-wheat pasta.
“This conditioning happens over time in response to eating – repeatedly – what is out there in the toxic food environment.”
In the study, researchers examined the part of the brain linked to addiction and reward in 13 men and women who were either overweight or obese.
Eight of these participants were also taking part in a specially designed weight-loss programme, and were prescribed a diet high in fibre and protein and low in carbohydrates.
Significantly, scientists made sure this new eating plan did not allow for participants to go hungry, knowing that when hunger strikes, cravings for unhealthy foods are harder to control.
MRI brain scans of all the participants were carried out at the start and end of a six-month period, and those on the diet showed clear changes in the reward centre of their brains.
When they were shown pictures of different kinds of food, it was the healthier options that produced an increased reaction – indicating a greater enjoyment of healthier food.
The results also showed a decreased sensitivity to unhealthy foods.
What this study serves to highlight is that with the right kind of diet and nutritional guidance, the brain can learn to prefer healthier and lower calorie foods which are essential for maintaining a healthy weight and preventing the development of obesity-related diseases.
While gastric bypass surgery is an effective method of weight-loss for those struggling with food addiction, this method can take away food enjoyment rather than making healthier foods more appealing.
Getting help from a nutritionist, however, will allow you to tackle any bad eating habits on a personal level so that you can develop a healthier relationship with food in the long-term.