Health food habits may not come naturally to many diabetics struggling to train their brains to yearn for a healthier fare after receiving a doctor’s diagnosis of diabetes mellitus. However, recent research may provide hope for retraining the brain to crave a more nutritious cuisine and break the addiction to an unhealthy diet. The preliminary study, published in the Nutrition and Diabetes journal in September 2014, focused on subjects who were trying to lose weight, but the results have impact outside the original target group. Both the weight loss and diabetic crowd struggle with health issues related to poor eating habits, so the news that victory is possible can seem like the light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel.
Tufts University researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA), in conjunction with Massachusetts General Hospital, used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to test the subjects’ brain sensitivity to nutrient-rich, low-calorie foods along the brain’s reward pathways. Scientists performed the scans before and after the six-month study and had the non-control participants take part in a healthy weight loss diet created by Tufts’ scientists, called the iDiet. Massachusetts General Hospital psychologist, Thilo Deckersbach, shares the encouraging results that show that turning the tables on a person’s food preferences is a very real possibility.
Post-study scans demonstrated an increased pleasure in and desire for health food after making healthy eating a habit over a sustained period of time, as well as weakening the allure of the ever popular junk food. USDA HNRCA scientist, Dr. Sai Krupa Das, explains that although such a possibility has been long suspected, this is to the best of their knowledge the first empirical scientific evidence of the connection between habitual diet and neurological or psychological cravings and the prospect of teaching the brain to think about and react differently to food. The research team acknowledges that this study is just the tip of the iceberg and more studies need to be done to confirm the results, but they feel their health food findings hold promise.
The iDiet offered participants high-fiber, low-glycemic meals, as well as tools and training in behavior modification. They had access to interactive online resources to help them know how to stock their pantries with healthy food and make healthier choices when eating out. The goal of the diet is to weaken the hunger pains that plague those on a better health and weight loss mission, whether because of diabetes mellitus or just a desire for a healthier lifestyle, by training their brains to be satiated with a more wholesome food menu. The bill of fare includes a wide variety of foods spread over three full meals, plus snacks, during the day so that participants do not feel deprived of diversity in their diet and find themselves tempted to cheat. Dr. Krupa Das notes the purpose and goal of the diet is to modify the brain’s reaction to food.
The implications of this study infuse optimism into many diabetics’ struggle to retrain a lifelong habit of calorie-laden food and convince their brains to embrace a new outlook on healthy living. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) assures those battling the chronic condition, although dietary changes are necessary, the diabetic diet is not as restrictive as it used to be, nor is there a single eating plan that will work equally for every patient. The good news is, just as the iDiet provided variety in the menu, people with diabetes have a great deal of flexibility in creating a meal plan that works with their personal preferences while still encouraging good health habits. No one has to categorically give up all his or her favorite menu items.
The ADA recommends eating evenly spaced, well-rounded meals that include lean meats, vegetables, non-fat dairy, fruit, whole grains and healthy fats. They warn against overeating, skipping meals or overloading on one single food type. Tufts’ researchers concur that learning the health food habit is an achievable goal for diabetics and the weight loss community everywhere.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser