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Cues may help you beat an obsession with junk food

Harold Mandel's picture
Junk food

There seems to be a way out of the unhealthy junk-food eating cycle by using preventive cues.


Eating too much junk food is associated with obesity. It sometimes seems almost impossible to break out of an addiction to junk food. However, it appears cues can help beat this obsession.

Preventive cues may help you work your way out of a very unhealthy junk food eating cycle

MedicalXpress reports the use of preventive cues may help you work your way out of a very unhealthy junk food eating cycle. A binge culture mentality has resulted in a lure towards an obsession with a quick fix from junk food for a lot of people. However a new study suggests it may not be too hard for people to pull themselves out of this unhealthy cycle.

Researchers led by Laura Corbit, who is assistant professor at the University of Sydney, were curious to determine how people might effectively counteract eating habits which are not healthy. They had an idea that our environment may help to shape what we eat. It seemed to this research team that our decisions about eating are influenced by food cues such as seen on commercials and billboards.

With an interest in determining strategies which are helpful to fight obesity and associated metabolic disease the researchers conducted experiments on lab rats wherein they used pringles, oreos, chow and jelly snakes. It became apparent that the rats lost the ability to make volitional choices which were based on the nutritional value of food in environments with a routine consumption of tasty high-fat and high-sugar snacks. However it also became apparent it was not too hard to pull the rats out of this unhealthy eating cycle.

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Cues which shape and perpetuate poor eating habits creates habitual behavior in people

External food cues which shape and perpetuate poor eating habits creates habitual behavior in people. In this context conscientious weight regulation and concerns about health do not necessarily dictate eating patterns. Commercials and billboards lure people to food which is cheap and high in fat and sugar.

In rats a more habitual type of behavior was seen in a junk food environments than in a bland chow environment. The researchers were curious to determine if varying aspects in the environment could reverse the habitual junk food eating behavior of the rats. It was observed that a sound cue which was paired with the bland chow led the rats back towards a volitional mind frame.

Preventive cues could help beat the junk food eating cycle

This study offers encouraging considerations if we translate the habitual eating behavior which is often seen in rats to people. It has been suggested by the researchers that the use of simple interventions such as preventive cues could help beat the junk food eating cycle. There have been smart phone apps developed to help undermine eating junk food. Signs which highlight healthy food options in food courts seem to also help bring people into a volitional state of mind in making food choices.

This study has been published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. There has been a need for a better understanding of factors which lead to excessive junk food consumption due to the increasing prevalence of obesity and associated metabolic diseases. Food seeking behavior and consumption in the absence of actually being hungry is often set off by the easy availability of calorie dense tasty foods which are paired with extremely salient cues in the environment.

In rats positive cues paired with bland chow helped shape positive food seeking behavior. This has positive implications for people. It's possible for human beings to develop preventive cues to snap them out of unhealthy eating habits and direct them towards healthy eating. This understanding could help initiatives to create more healthy eating environments for people.