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Train Your Brain to Prefer Good-for-You Foods

There’s a reason we’re supposed to fill more than half our plates with fruits and veggies as part of a healthy eating plan. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins has been linked to a lower risk of breast cancer in some studies, according to the American Cancer Society1. If you’re a steak and potatoes kinda gal, a plate of greens, beans and other healthy foods might just kill your appetite. But a study2 out of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and Massachusetts General Hospital recently found that you can indeed train your brain to prefer healthy foods over diet destroyers—it just may take about six months.

The Boston-area scientists looked at overweight and obese men and women, some of whom were also enrolled in a weight loss program designed by Tufts University. All the participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans at the beginning of the study and again after six months. And the six-months-in brain scans of those who were in the weight loss program revealed changes in their brains’ reward centers—specifically, increased sensitivity to healthy, lower-calorie foods and decreased sensitivity to unhealthy, higher-calorie foods. In other words, the participants who had faithfully followed a healthy eating plan for six months had changed their brains to prefer healthy foods over unhealthy foods. Simply by sticking with their diets.

That’s the good news—and the bad news, right? Because sticking with your weight loss diet—making your weight loss goals as important as just about everything else in your life—is unspeakably tough. Especially for women. With all we juggle in our busy lives, we women have a hard time staying focused on ourselves. We’re easily distracted by family and work and friendship responsibilities—anything incoming. The secret is knowing this about ourselves and planning for it.

Here are some health tips on how to stick with your healthy eating plan:

Keep reminders of your goals

Keep reminders of your health and fitness relationship goals everywhere you can. Plaster something motivational on your computer, iPad, or iPhone screensaver or homepage. It could be a quote or picture or anything that snaps you out of your stress trance and right back into your end fitness relationship goal. Hot tip: Whip out that piece of clothing that you’ll fit into 5 or 10 pounds from now and keep it front and center in your closet. Use it as visual weight loss encouragement.

Relax when eating

Eat everything sitting down. This will force to you enjoy every bite and avoid eating mindlessly, which is the enemy of a weight loss eating plan.

Stay Active

Distract yourself. Come up with a list of distractions you can turn to when a craving strikes. These could be things like call a friend, check the news online, or go get the mail.

Stay in touch with your motivations

Remind yourself of your reasons why. Always stay in touch with the reason why you’re working so hard to lose weight and get healthier. Whether it’s to be able to hike that gorgeous mountain on vacation, or to travel and feel comfortable, or to be here to enjoy your kids and grandkids, or to get off your medications, or to glow with energy—it doesn’t matter what your why is, just that you remember and honor it. Constantly.




  1. Cancer.org
  2. Tufts Now
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