Distractions Diminish Food Cravings
Written by Editor   
Saturday, November 08, 2014 11:00 AM

Two studies reported here at the Obesity Week meeting show that cognitive strategies for turning attention away from food cravings help patients turn off the desire to indulge -- at least temporarily.

"Food craving has become a much more prominent focal point because we're finding out that the brain's reward pathways are what drive most of the overeating in the U.S. and industrialized nations."

"It's not due to physiological need. ... The reward salience, or craving, usually wins out."  "The trend," he added, "is that we're moving more toward, can we study what's going on in the brain, and figure out how that is ultimately controlling this behavior, and alter that somehow."

Both studies sought to test cognitive strategies to suppress cravings, with one taking a mental tack and the other a more physical approach.

In one study researchers had participants  perform 30-second distraction tasks to reduce cravings of their favorite foods. Those included either tapping one's own forehead and ear with the index finger, tapping a toe on the floor, or a control task of staring at a blank wall.  They found that all of these strategies worked to reduce the intensity of cravings, but finger tapping had the best results of all, with the largest effect sizes. It also led to the greatest reductions in food image vividness, they reported.

A second study used functional MRI (fMRI) to look at brain activity as heavier patients looked at images of foods like pizza and ice cream -- and to assess how mental distraction techniques changed that activity.  They found that focusing on long-term consequences reduced the urge to eat most significantly -- and it also increased brain activity in areas associated with inhibitory control, particularly the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

"Simply thinking in a different way affects how the brain responds to tempting food cues in individuals with obesity," Demos said, adding that the results show the "promising possibility that focusing on the long-term consequences of consuming unhealthy foods could help diminish cravings, and as a result potentially enhance weight-loss efforts."

Source:  http://www.medpagetoday.com/MeetingCoverage/ObesityWeek/48472