Think you’re a helpless victim to the unhealthy food you crave? Think again. Scientists now believe it could be possible to retrain your brain to go for nutritious, lower-calorie options.

According to a study by Tufts University, Massachusetts, the right diet plan could be key to tackling that craving for burgers and pizza.

Why you keep reaching out for fries and more fatty foods
It’s believed that once addictions for fatty foods take hold, it can be very hard or even impossible to reverse, meaning overweight people are likely to continue in a vicious cycle of eating the wrong things. However, it’s not natural to gravitate towards junk.

“We don’t start out in life loving French fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta,” said author Susan Roberts, professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and an adjunct professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine.

“This conditioning happens over time in response to eating – repeatedly! – what is out there in the toxic food environment.”

Retrain your brain to stop craving for junk food
The brain scan study, which is published online in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, suggests it is possible to reverse these addictive wants.

Thirteen obese men and women were used for the research – eight were participants in a new weight loss programme designed by the university, and five were in a control group.

All participants were given an MRI scan at the beginning and end of the six-month study. It showed changes in the brain reward centre associated with learning and addiction.

An adapted version of the science-based iDiet was followed by all subjects. They were given portion-controlled menus, high-satiety meals and tip sheets. The menus were made up of low-glycemic index carbohydrates with higher fibre and higher protein. These have a slower digestion profile and don’t have as many fluctuations in blood glucose in a bid to decrease hunger.

There were also group support sessions and individual emails from a nutritionist to spur them on.

Make healthy eating a habit
After six months, the brain reward centre showed a higher sensitivity to healthy foods, indicating the enjoyment gained by eating them had increased. The sensitivity to ‘bad’ meals had also decreased.

“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,” Sai Krupa Das of the USDA HNRCA and an assistant professor at the Friedman School, explained.

“To the best of our knowledge this is the first demonstration of this important switch.”

The research could be the first step away from gastric bands, which may help with weight loss but also decrease general enjoyment of food. © Cover Media