Is it possible to train yourself to prefer healthier food?

Posted 12/17/2014 | By HealthCorps

A small study from researchers at Tufts University and Massachusetts General Hospital found that you can indeed condition yourself to want lower calorie foods versus higher calorie, unhealthy foods.  The study was published in the September journal Nutrition & Diabetes, used brain scans to see if it was possible to limit the addictive nature and craving for unhealthy foods, and replace it with a preference for healthier foods.

According to the senior author of the study, we clearly aren’t born craving French fries and donuts.  The conditioning to prefer and desire these foods happens over years of conditioning.  Once the brain circuits are primed for these foods, it can be very hard, nearly impossible, to thwart the cravings.  The study looked at the brain reward system in 13 test subjects who were either overweight or obese.  The subjects were divided into groups, after baseline MRIs were performed.   One group continued to eat in the same fashion, while the other group was given a weight loss diet, designed to limit unhealthy foods, providing an abundance of lower calorie, more nutrient-dense foods.

After six months the repeat MRIs showed changes in the weight loss group, specifically in the brain’s center associated with learning and addiction.  The weight loss group showed an increased desire for healthier foods.  The researchers credit specific aspects of the weight loss program – behavior change education, and a high fiber, low glycemic diet plan with menus.  It was a very small but encouraging study, showing for the first time that even deeply entrenched food behaviors and preferences can be changed.

-Amy Hendel, PA/HealthCoach

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