Could a super simple app really help you eat less junk food? Well, according to researchers at the universities of Exeter and Helsinki – it can! Their research found that playing the online choice-based game they developed actually helped participants make better eating choices. In fact, participants who played every day for a month ate less junk food and even lost weight.The results of this simple experiment were impressive. Professor Natalia Lawrence from the University of Exeter, said that “someone who ate each junk food two to four times a week reduced this to once a week after using the app regularly for a month.” (1) And those that used the app even more had even bigger changes in their eating patterns.
It might seem outrageous that a simple game could really influence what you eat, but it’s worked for many people. One participant said, “my cravings have reduced dramatically and I no longer eat in the evening mindlessly.” (1)
If you’ve struggled to control your eating patterns or are really attached to those favorite comfort foods, this app could help you not only eat less junk food, but even help minimize your cravings for those foods, making it easier to lose weight and eat healthy.
So, how does it work? You might be surprised to hear that the app doesn’t have anything to do with training your stomach. This app focuses on training your brain. In fact, it “trains people to tap on images of healthy foods – but to stop when they see unhealthy snacks, creating an association between these foods and stopping.” (1)
For example, after you download the app, you’ll be able to personalize it and add the foods that you want to stop eating and find hard to resist (for example, ice cream, chips, and bread). Then, once you start the game, you’ll see two options, for example, an apple with a green circle around it, and a bowl of ice cream with a red circle around it. All you have to do is tap on the apple and it sends you to the next two options.
You might be thinking, “really, that’s it?” And although it sounds too easy and too simple to actually work, their research shows that constantly choosing healthy foods – even if it is virtually on an app – helps your brain form connections and helps you actually choose healthy foods in real life.
Lawrence says their findings were really encouraging, because it’s something that anyone can do, and it doesn’t take that much time either. She said, “the app is free and it only takes about four minutes per day – so it’s something people realistically can do – and our results suggest it is effective.” (1)
If you’ve tried dieting in the past, or even have just tried to eat healthier or cut certain foods out of your diet, you know how hard it can be to change your eating habits and actually achieve your goals. But, it’s really not all your fault.
The human body is designed to survive, but not necessarily to be healthy. Since our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in the wild and had to eat as much as they could when there was food available – just in case one day there wasn’t – your body is hardwired to do the same. So, now, when you decide to eat healthy or cut back on certain foods, it takes a lot of willpower to go against what your body (and brain) really wants.
However, recent studies suggest that it’s not all about willpower. One study published in Cognitive Neuroscience looked at brain imaging tests and found that “some people have an imbalance between the executive control and reward systems of the brain. This disconnect means you may not have enough natural control over the impulse to reach for food when you’re stressed or even when you’re happy.” (2) So, when it comes to dieting, your brain might not actually be on your side.
That’s why brain training is so important. It’s not just about muscling through and using all your willpower to avoid those delicious chocolate chip cookies. It’s about training your brain to choose healthy foods. Then, eventually those choices turn into habits, and it’s much easier to stick to your diet or eating plan.
The reason we all eat junk food is because we like it – if we didn’t like it, we wouldn’t eat it. Lots of time, eating healthy foods is hard because we’ve trained ourselves to not like it (or at least, not like it as much as ice cream or chips or French fries). Then the question arises: “can we re-train our brain to like healthy foods and dislike unhealthy foods?” (3)
This question was what led Harvard researchers to study brain scans and determine what really happens in the brain when you eat healthy or unhealthy foods. Their results were surprising – turns out “participants experienced a heightened reward (more pleasure) and enjoyment from healthier food cues.” (3)
Your body craves vitamins and minerals and nutrients – things junk foods can’t give you. So really, you’ll be happier (and healthier) when you choose that apple instead of the chocolate chip cookie. If you can remember that eating healthy will make your brain happier, not only will you feel better, you’ll also find it easier to resist cravings and achieve your weight loss goals.
As with everything in life, if you want to see results, consistency is key. Researcher Dr Aulbach said, “it seems important that you do the training regularly and don’t just stop. So, keep it interesting and relevant for yourself so you won’t get bored with it: personalize the app as far as possible and pick the foods that you find really hard to resist.” (1)
But don’t just take their word for it – try it for yourself today and see how great it works for you! Don’t give up on your dieting goals, if you want to change your brain and change your eating habits, check out the new app. It’s called FoodT, and it’s free in the App Store or the Google Play store.