Researchers recommend weight-loss interventions focused on hunger-reducing food choices

Shifting out of high-calorie habits
Meals designed to reduce hunger include foods that are high in fiber, such as beans, lentils, peas, artichokes, bulgar wheat, pumpkin, and barley. The dish shown here is a barley soup. Credit: Peggy Greb

A new study suggests that weight-loss interventions that center on hunger-reducing food choices and behavioral support can produce favorable shifts in "self-reward" areas of the brain. The study addresses concerns by weight-loss experts that when instant gratification, or addictive-type food involvement, becomes entrenched in the brain, it may be nearly impossible to reverse.

The study volunteers were 13 overweight or obese men and women assigned to one of two study groups. One group was placed on an at-home weight-loss intervention of lower calorie foods for 6 months with a goal of losing about 1 to 2 pounds per week. The other was a no-intervention control group eating normally at home.

To satisfy brain areas linked with cravings—the intervention group's diet provided about 45 to 50 percent of daily calories from "slow-digesting" carbohydrates and high-fiber foods. High-protein foods and healthy fats each provided about 25 percent of the other daily calories. The group received 1-hour support sessions most weeks and meal plans that centered on hunger reduction, portion-control, and high satisfaction. They were told to evenly space meals and snacks, and to freely use foods from a list of those with very few calories that could be eaten any time. These tips were designed to keep blood sugar levels even (versus spiking) and control hunger.

The study was conducted by senior coauthor Susan B. Roberts—an expert in developing programs for weight management—and colleagues. Roberts is with the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University in Boston. The center is funded by USDA's Agricultural Research Service. She is also professor of both nutrition and psychiatry at Tufts University.

Roberts has centered her work on "innate nutritional neurobiology," which is about helping people learn what "pushes their buttons" when it comes to staying in control of what they eat. "The abundance of affordable commercial foods that contain added sugars and low-satiety, refined grains and starches are food cues that stimulate the American palate," says Roberts. "Our studies have shown that just viewing pictures from mouth-watering food advertisements can activate brain-reward pathways and trigger the urge to eat." By understanding how brain circuitry stimulates eating in response to visual and actual food cues, Roberts has linked reducing cravings and increasing satisfaction with successful programs.

For the study, the team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to assess neuronal activity in the brain's reward-response areas. The findings indicate that it is possible to change the cycle of constantly craving unhealthy foods by retraining the brain to stop activating its reward centers on exposure to a steady stream of high-calorie food cues. (See sidebar below.) "A particular challenge is ongoing exposure to commercial foods that are formulated to overactivate the brain and trigger constant cravings," Roberts says.

Shifting out of high-calorie habits

All volunteers had two MRI brain scans—one at the beginning and one at the end of the 6-month study. During scanning, the volunteers were shown 20 images of high-calorie foods and 20 images of low-calorie foods. They rated the desirability of each image on a scale of 1 (none) to 4 (extremely) while blood flow to key brain areas was measured. Higher blood flow indicated greater neuronal activity.

Roberts was not surprised that the intervention group achieved significant weight loss—about 14 pounds. "Our key finding is that intervention-group participants had greater neuronal activity on their brain scans when viewing low-calorie food images at the end of the 6-month period versus when they viewed the same images before the —a significant favorable shift," she says. "More studies to assess whether these positive changes in neuroplasticity can help people sustain weight loss over time are needed."

Strategies To Control Cravings Are Key

Susan B. Roberts has been studying complex brain responses to the dramatically changed U.S. food supply that is described as the "obesogenic environment" in the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" (DGAs) 2010. Roberts is the director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at HNRCA in Boston, which is funded in part by USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

The DGAs report that during the past four decades, the amount of food on hand to purchase from the U.S. market—in terms of average daily caloric availability—has increased by 600 calories per person.

Roberts emphasizes a moderately low carbohydrate intake rather than a very low carb intake, in keeping with the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for carbohydrates of 130 grams, or 520 calories, per day. "Carbohydrate intake at the lower end of the recommended range, rather than below it, is optimal for weight control," says Roberts. "It is a good level where people can enjoy some carbs, but not so many that they trigger food cravings and eating-control issues."

Another key to managing body weight is getting ample fiber, which is a subset of the carbohydrate group, says Roberts. The daily adequate intake for fiber is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Unfortunately, dietary fiber intake among U.S. consumers averages only 16 grams per day, according to ARS data from the Food Surveys Research Group in Beltsville, Maryland.

"For losing weight, I recommend at least 40 grams of fiber per day," says Roberts. "Fiber is one of our weight-control cornerstones because it helps achieve the feeling of fullness after eating."

Good sources of fiber include legumes (beans and peas), vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. The table below provides a short list of foods that are high in both fiber and slow-digesting carbs.

Explore further

Training your brain to prefer healthy foods

Citation: Researchers recommend weight-loss interventions focused on hunger-reducing food choices (2015, March 9) retrieved 21 September 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Mar 09, 2015
The philosophy of this diet is incredibly simple.
It should be. The philosophy is my own.
I have lost 64 lbs in 73 days.
I blog about my experiences each day.
You can find my blog by searching: Marc Jacobs Rabbi Hillel Diet
Join me. Encourage me. Get Motivated by me.
Admission is FREE! (of course, it's free, it's a blog!)
Marvelous Mental Musings posted daily.

Mar 09, 2015
Best weight loss tricks ever!
If you've ever tried to lose weight (and who hasn't), you've got to be mindful of whose advice you take. Your colleague says you need to cut out carbs. Your gym buddy knows the secret is to stop eating after 7 p.m. Your Facebook friend swears she'll be in swimsuit shape by March if she only eats once a day. Your husband, well, he sneezes and the weight seems to fall off.

But do any of these tips really work? To help you shed those extra pounds—and keep them off—without starving yourself, ditching your social life, or eating only at odd times of the day, we talked to experienced nutritionists for real-world advice you can actually live with, day in and day out. We'll tell you how to focus on the delicious foods you can add to your diet, why you should be eating more often (yes!),

watch our official video link here

Mar 10, 2015
If you're 10-15 pounds over weight then I highly recommend reading the review made by Cerberus Reviews on the weight loss diet called 10 Day Turbo Diet as it is currently the most popular review on the website. The diet goes into the science of fat mobilization among other things such as triglycerides and it gives you a great nutrition diet. 10 Day Turbo Diet will put you on the road to weight loss at a fast pace, it was made to help you lose that extra weight quick, it is untapped potential for losing weight, not many people know about this yet but it is rising up there. Cerberus Reviews also has a wide range of other reviews. We have reviewed specific weight loss for women, meditation related things, software, books, and even cooking recipes! Anything we have reviewed is considered fine quality and we guarantee it's on par with your expectations. Thanks for reading!

Mar 10, 2015
Low calorie and nutritious food up for grabs, as well because the practice of yoga exercise will benefit much more.

Mar 25, 2015
My friend lost 120 pounds and her body weight was 260 pounds. She did it. She told me that the most important is that you have to be motivated and mentally strong/ She wrote her life story at MYDIETSTORY.NET Her story can be very helpful to someone who wants to reduce weight.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more