Recently, a group of scientists from Tufts University conducted a study to see if they could change the way our brains work. What they found is that by making conscious choices in what we eat and enjoy, we can train our brains to crave healthier foods instead of fatty or salty treats.
We think we are stuck in a never ending cycle of craving fat-filled, sugar laden treats. We have conditioned ourselves to want these unhealthy foods. However, we are not bound to this cycle: the Tuft University study has proven that it is very possible to change the brain’s reactions towards unhealthy foods. According to the study published in Nutrition & Diabetes, all it takes is education and a change in our diet.
Susan B Roberts, a co-contributor in the study, said that we are not born loving french fries, we condition ourselves over a period of time to crave these toxic foods. Scientists say that we actually form unhealthy circuits in our brain that get harder to reverse as time goes on; this is what leads to a lifetime of craving and eating junk food.
To find out if it was possible to break these unhealthy addictions in the brain, the research team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans to watch the reward centers in the brain. The study was comprised of 13 overweight and obese women and men; eight of these people underwent a six month program to loss weight, the other five of these people were the control group, and were given no instructional weight loss treatment at all.
The group of eight were in a special program designed to change how people react to different foods. Besides being schooled in behavioral weight management, these participants also were given low-glycemic menu plans, tip sheets and several suggestions for healthy meals.
At the beginning of the study every participant underwent MRI scans, and then again after the six month program ended. While being scanned, pictures of high calorie foods, low calories foods, and non-foods as control images were shown to each participant to note their sensitivity to each image. As predicted, every participant showed increased brain activity when shown the high-calories foods.
After six months, the control group still reacted to the high-calorie images. The lucky eight showed increased sensitivity to pictures of healthy foods, and a decreased sensitivity to unhealthy foods. This proved to the researchers that it is very possible to re-program the reward center of our human brains, especially the areas dealing with addictions and learning.
These early findings show that food addictions in our brain are not always permanent, but are flexible enough that we can learn how to eat better and make the lessons stick. More research is needed to determine if these same techniques can be used to treat other addictions like alcohol, drugs or gambling.
This study does prove that it is never too late to break a cycle of addiction; if we make a conscious decision to lead a healthier life, we can make it happen. When we use our minds and bodies together to recover from the toxins we ingested, we may actually be on the way to healing the dysfunctional pathways in our brain that wants to keep us trapped in a nasty cycle. We can break that cycle – through education and willpower.
Source: The Mind Unleashed
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