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Retrain Your Brain to Eat Healthfully

  • Eating

Are you afraid that you will never be able to train your brain to want healthier foods? Well, take heart. The evidence of a new study says you most certainly can. “Training Your Brain to Prefer Healthy Foods (TuftsNow, 11/6/14, describes the study’s conclusions, but is focused, unfortunately, on weight loss rather than on participants getting healthy. However, that doesn’t change its heartening conclusions.

The study explored whether it is “possible to train the brain to prefer healthy low-calorie foods over unhealthy higher-calorie foods.” Brain scans “suggest that it is possible to reverse the addictive power of unhealthy food while also increasing preference for healthy food.” Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted to happen? Note that I’m not making a case here to always eat nutritious food and never eat non-nutritious food. That’s not “normal” eating. The point is that your brain can be retrained to move in a new, more positive direction around food.

One of the study’s authors, Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., a Tufts professor at their School of Nutrition Science and Policy, puts it this way: “This conditioning (she means to non-nutritious food), happens over time in response to eating – repeatedly! – what is out there in the toxic food environment.” Again, I’m not wild about her calling food toxic, but you get the idea. Results were measured by weight loss on the assumption that people who lost weight were enjoying choosing and eating healthier foods. This may or may not be the case, as it sounds a lot like dieting, and we know how long that kind of restrictive “preference” lasts. The study also used MRIs to look at how food cues were processed in the brain which seems a more accurate way of understanding what’s going on in it.

My goal in blogging on this topic is to show you that the brain can change and that you can alter and improve your eating habits. Mostly habits simply change over time from doing something repeatedly. Look at how you became an emotional or compulsive eater—from consistently making food your go-to activity when you were stressed or distressed. Think about it. Did you always dislike non-nutritious food or was there a time you loved it and weren’t all that interested in sweets and treats? This is the case for many disregulated eaters. They “learned” or “taught themselves” how to eat poorly. Now you can teach your brain, in part by sheer repetition, to do a better job at choosing foods (most of the time) which are healthy for your body. So stop saying, you can’t change. Science says you can!