Wednesday, October 29, 2014

You Can End That Addiction to Fried and Fatty. You Can Change Your Mind. Yes, You Can.

It's still chicken, only baked instead of fried. Archive photo.

THE power of positive thinking can help individuals overcome any number of difficulties, meet myriad challenges. Very few would dispute this.

But now this notion has some science behind it – certainly as it regards more healthful food choices. Indeed, the-little-engine-that-could brand of thinking is not so much pep talk and pop psychology.

If your mind can conceive your choosing a turkey burger on eggplant instead of a beef burger on bun. If your heart can believe it. Then, you can achieve it. Not only a healthier, lower-calorie meal, but one that can lead to many quality of life benefits, particularly if you are not overweight or obese.

It really is all in the mind. Entrenched, addictive preferences for unhealthy foods can eventually be reversed, according to research by scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University and Massachusetts General Hospital.

A nice break from mac&cheese aka whole wheat pasta salad. Archive photo.

“We don’t start out in life loving French fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta,” said lead author Susan B. Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA. She is also a 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.”

A brain scan study in adult men and women suggests that you, you, you, you and you can, for instance, reverse the addictive pull of a sugary soft drink and replace it with a preference for a lightly sweetened or unsweetened Honest Tea.

The study, Pilot randomized trial demonstrating reversal of obesity-related abnormalities in reward system responsivity to food cues with a behavioral intervention, is published in a recent issue (1 Sept. 2014) of the journal, Nutrition & Diabetes.

SR& Co. observed the reward system part of the brain in 13 overweight and obese men and women. Eight were participants in a new weight-loss program designed by Tufts University researchers. The five in the control group were not.

"A 'just a tad sweet' white tea brew with agave syrup and mango puree." Honest. Tea. A typical soft drink can't make the same claim. Photo from Honest Tea Web site.

Both groups underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans at the beginning and end of a six-month period. After six months the brain scans showed that those in the weight-loss program were more sensitive to healthy, lower-calorie foods, suggesting an increased reward and enjoyment of these foods.

Further, they showed less enjoyment of unhealthy, higher-calorie foods. Conversely, those in the control group showed no change in food preferences.

“The weight loss program is specifically designed to change how people react to different foods,” said co-author Sai Krupa Das, a scientist in the USDA HNRCA's Energy Metabolism Laboratory. She is also assistant professor at the Friedman School. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of this important switch.”

It is possible, then – though difficult, to be sure and with professional intervention – to flip your script and go for a small piece of dark chocolate instead of a large chunk of chocolate cake.”

The researchers believe that several features of the weight-loss program contributed to the better food choices. They include behavior change education and high-fiber, high protein, low-glycemic carb menu plans, as well as consuming up to 1,000 fewer calories a day. They also acknowledge their study has drawbacks.

“There is much more research to be done here, involving many more participants, long-term followup and investigating more areas of the brain,” SR said. “But we are very encouraged that, the weight-loss program appears to change what foods are tempting to people.”

A little bit of dark chocolate can easily be a stand-in for chocolate cake. Archive photo.

No one is suggesting that anyone give up mac&cheese. Occasionally, however, the mind (and palate) can be tempted toward whole wheat pasta salad, no?

Visit to read the entire article or an abstract of “Pilot randomized trial demonstrating reversal of obesity-related abnormalities in reward system responsivity to food cues with a behavioral intervention.”

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