"We don't start out in life loving french fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta," author Susan Roberts, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Energy Metabolism Laboratory, said. "This conditioning happens over time in response to eating— repeatedly—what is out there in the toxic food environment."
In a study published in Nutrition & Diabetes, scientists claim that altering the way you eat can physically change the way your body reacts to food—and that includes your brain.
Here's the study: 13 overweight participants were split into two groups—a control group and an experimental group. Both groups underwent an fMRI to analyze their brain activity when they were shown pictures of food.
Next, the experimental group participated in a behavioral intervention program that used tools like group support sessions and portion-controlled menus. All participants lowered their daily caloric intake by 500 to 1,000 calories a day. They also added fiber and protein to curb those hunger cravings.
Six months later, the two groups returned to the fMRI machine for a second brain scan, and the results might surprise you!
The researchers showed the participants pictures of high-calorie foods, like french fries, and low-calorie foods like a turkey sandwich.
Those in the experimental group that had undergone months of vigorous dieting, cutting back the bad stuff like junk food and unhealthy fats, showed less activity in the striatum (the area of the brain associated with the brain's reward system) than the control group. In fact , researchers saw a spike in the experimental group's striatum when they saw pictures of lower-calorie foods.
"There is much more research to be done here, involving many more participants, long-term follow-up and investigating more areas of the brain," Roberts said. "But we are very encouraged that the weight-loss program appears to change what foods are tempting to people."
Moral of the story? It's possible to train your brain to stop craving high-calorie foods. It just takes a little bit of work. Here's what we suggest:
1. Stop eating out. Those quick stops at the McDonald's drive-thru aren't doing you any favors! Cutting fast food altogether is a quick, foolproof and relatively easy way to eliminate unnecessary calories.
2. Bye, bye, soda! Drinking soda is a great way to drink up your calories for the day—so stop doing it! Opt for zero-calorie, no artificial sweetener fizzy waters instead. They will give you the illusion of drinking soda without all the toxic chemicals.
3. No more microwaveable meals. It's time to turn to an au-naturale diet. Those microwaveable meals might be quick and easy, but they're not providing you with the nutrients you need, and most are crazy-high in calories! Try these 30 meals under 30 minutes instead.
4. Stop snacking. Is the only thing that's getting you through the day your trip to the vending machine so you can munch on a Pop Tart at your desk? It's time to cut the bad habits. Avoid snacking at all and eat more small meals throughout the day that are higher in protein and fiber so you won't become hungry between meal times.
The best way to trick your brain into craving healthy foods is to feed your body healthy foods. Avoiding the bad stuff is really tough, especially at the beginning, but the longer you stick with your diet plan, the easier it gets. Push through those first few weeks and and in no time you'll start to crave hummus and carrots instead of chips and dip!