Food Addiction Can Be Reversed, Study Says

By Shawn Dwyer 09/02/14

A focus on eating healthier in concert with education can help food addicts turn toward healthier foods.

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A new study has concluded that the brain can be retrained to enjoy healthy foods despite an addiction to unhealthy, high-calorie foods.

Conducted by the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston and at Massachusetts General Hospital, the study scanned the addiction center of both men and women, and learned that utilizing both a low-calorie, high-fiber diet and counseling could reverse cravings for unhealthy foods.  

"We don't start out in life loving French fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta," said the study's senior author, Susan B. Roberts, a behavioral nutritionist at Tufts and director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA. "This conditioning happens over time in response to eating—repeatedly—what is out there in the toxic food environment."

Researchers spent six months studying 13 participants who were either overweight or obese and studied the part of their brains linked to reward and addiction. Participants were given a healthy diet that consisted in part of sweet potatoes and high-fiber cereal instead of French fries and sugary cereal. They were also given classes that taught them how to reduce the importance of diets favoring unhealthy foods.

At the end of six months, the participants were given brain scans and were shown photos of healthy foods. The results found that the participants showed more sensitivity to and enjoyment of a better diet.

"There is much more research to be done here, involving many more participants, long-term follow-up and investigating more areas of the brain," Prof Roberts concluded.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.