Carola Becker

Carola Becker


How does your brain make food decisions and how you can retrain it

Your brain makes lots of decisions every day –what to wear, how to rephrase that email, what to eat, and how much… most of these decisions you make unconsciously. You may think that you decide but in actual fact, it was your brain making these decisions before you think you made it!

Several scientific studies have been conducted recently and the findings may be interesting for you to try if they work for you:

It seems that our brain processes information about taste quicker than information about health – because taste is concrete whilst ‘health’ is abstract! So the brain does a better job estimating how sweet a donut is, instead of considering the long-term impact it has on your heart health.

And, even worse:  when presented with healthy but unappealing food and unhealthy but tasty food, our brain sees conflict and simply avoids the dilemma by choosing the unhealthy yet tasty food.

But – as usual: we are not helpless victims of our donut-favouring brain!

One of the easiest ways to eat well is to find healthy foods you like. It sounds obvious but it’s a great strategy to help your brain make better decisions for us. If you choose healthier foods over unhealthier ones, your brain processes the information about health faster than people who always choose a donut over an apple.

So how can we help our brain make those healthy decisions? Actively and deliberately choose healthy foods over unhealthy foods for a period of time. Your frontal lobe is the region of the brain involved here. And if you start making good food decisions you can activate your frontal lobe.

This one maybe not be new to you but a good reminder: we tend to eat more if we are given larger portions, eating from a small plate can also help to make better decisions because we think we are already full because we have eaten a full plate of food!

Good news also for people who suffer from cravings: most of our preferences and tastes are learned: we eat certain foods (healthy or unhealthy) repeatedly and that shapes our choices. There are more trials needed to confirm the findings of this study but the results are promising:  

MRI scans of the participants show that the pattern of choosing unhealthy foods can be reversed by simply choosing healthier foods you like, consistently over some time. Combine this with a generally varied diet high in fibre, low GI carbohydrates as well as protein and fat to avoid hunger.

Note, this will not happen within a few weeks. The study went on for 6 months which shows that this is a slow process.

But your brain will eventually learn that healthy foods are good for you and the reward centres will not get the same ‘hit’ from unhealthy foods anymore!


The Health Science Academy

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