Can You Teach Your Brain To Crave Healthy Foods?
If our mind were wired to crave cucumbers instead of chocolates, we would be so much healthier, and losing weight would not have been a problem either. However, according to a research, the brain’s reward system lights up at the thought of high-calorie food. These crossed brain wires can make it difficult to lose weight and hence lead to obesity.
To make matters even worse, there are all kinds of delicious yet nutrient-poor foods around us to make the temptation even more stronger. Once you give in, the brain starts seeking out to them preferentially, instead of healthy and naturally nutrient-rich foods.
But, the question is, can we rewire the brain to start loving healthy food like fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy as much as junk food? The good news is, yes! According to a research by Harvard University, it is actually possible to train your brain to crave healthy food and develop a new habit.
Whenever you develop a new habit, a new pathway is created in your brain. And every time you stick to your new habit, your brain will release happy chemicals that will motivate you further to repeat behaviors that make you feel good.
The chemical responsible for this whole process is called myelin, which starts dropping off after the age of 20 and that is the reason why childhood habits are difficult to let go. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t work hard today and start re-train your brain to choose healthier food options.
A small study was held by a group of nutritionists, in which a few obese people were assigned to a behavior-based program while others received no such guidance. MRI scans revealed that the group of people who received proper guidance managed to shift their brain’s basic response successfully, and higher calorie food became less appealing to them while lower-calorie foods promised a greater reward generating system in the brain.
Hence, it is actually possible to teach your brain to avoid processed food and prefer healthy, wholesome foods over it. The trick is to eat as less junk food as you can, because the more you eat, the more you’ll crave it.
Here are some effective ways in which you can train your brain to crave healthy food. So, start implementing these techniques in your lifestyle and see if it they work out for you in the long run:
1- Understand how cravings work
The first step towards re-wiring your brain to crave healthier food is to learn how cravings actually work. Our brain is wired for survival. Whenever you opt for a sugar-laden and calorie-rich food, dopamine is released in the brain to trigger feelings of happiness.
According to Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., senior scientist at the USDA Nutrition Center at Tufts, “Calorie rushing foods (like chips and cookies) trigger a whole bunch of brain changes. They boost addiction circuits in the brain and one starts anticipating eating them next. It is a predictable sequence.”
The key here is to break the brain’s predictable behavior and prevent cravings before they kick in. Start eating less junk food and associate feelings of joy and accomplishment with other heathier sources of food.
2- Don’t stay hungry
Always keep healthy food options at hand and never stay hungry.
When we are hungry, we tend to eat the first available option that is offered to us. This is why, don’t keep junk food in the fridge and rearrange your pantry so that you can always reach out for the healthiest available option.
Keep some delicious looking fruits in a bowl at your dining table, or eat some veggies like baby carrots or cucumber with hummus for a quick snack. Remember, if you overcome those few crucial minutes of hunger and make the correct food choice, you’ll feel much better in the long run.
Here is a list of healthy snacks that will prevent you from slipping off the food radar.
3- Gross yourself out
Another way to stay away from processed food is to learn about what’s actually inside them. Here a few facts that will make you cringe: The preservative BHA which is added to a lot of processed food like Tang, Kool Aid, cereals and frozen sausages is considered to be a likely carcinogen. Vitamin D3 that is added to a lot of ready to eat dairy products is manufactured from sheep grease. Chips are loaded with sodium and other high cholesterol ingredients that may lead to heart disease.
Educate yourself about the potential dangers of eating processed food for a long time. Once you are aware of their harmful effects, you will automatically reach out for a more healthier and safer option.
4- Practice mindful eating
Mindful eating is not the name of new fad diet. Instead, it means to be conscious of what are you eating. If you practice mindfulness while eating, you’ll notice that bad eating habits will break automatically. Studies have shown that mindful eating is one of the most powerful ways to overcome binge eating and inculcate better food choices in your life.
Before you eat anything, question yourself: “Is this a conscious choice or am I eating out of habit?” This way you can prevent emotional eating and train your brain to make better choices. Read more about mindfulness eating here.
5- Maintain a food diary
It may sound very conventional, but maintaining a food diary can actually help you lose weight. A study that involved nearly 1700 people concluded that keeping a food diary can double a person’s weight loss rate.
Keep a record of every morsel that goes in your mouth, so you can look back and check how much food you ate unconsciously. It is impossible to remember it otherwise. You can also download an app for this purpose. There are so many apps that allow you to record your daily food intake and mood too. Here are some of the best apps that can make it easier for you to note your daily eating habits.
6- Manage your emotions
If you are constantly feeling ‘emotionally hungry‘, it is time to deal with the underlying emotions and stress that is causing it. Do not turn to food for a quick fix. Identify the real problem and try to solve it- either by talking to a friend or a professional, exercising or meditating.
Last but not the least, if you really want to drop your old eating habits and switch to healthier options, you should visualize your goals. Visualization is a fantastic motivator and much more effective than instant gratification.
According to a study, a group of overweight women dropped weight much more easily after imagining themselves in better bodies and enjoyable situations. So, you can actually think yourself thin!
The brain is a powerful machine, make sure you are using it in the right direction. Thus, the next time you want to order takeout, just imagine yourself in a healthier and stronger body. Do you think it is possible to crave healthy food? If yes, what is your reason behind eating clean? Leave your replies in the comments below and if you have any more ideas do share them too.