A Computer Game to Retrain Your Brain to Fight off Temptation

retraining brain for weight loss

Drexel University researchers are hoping their latest technology will help you learn to resist temptation toward junk foods and lose weight for good!

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Have you heard of “inhibitory control?” If your control is strong, you are better able to resist giving in to unhealthy cravings. You know – that feeling you have when the cookies are calling to you from the kitchen.

Dr. Evan Forman, a professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences at Drexler, and colleagues have developed a computer game and smartphone app that may actually “retrain your brain” and help improve your inhibitory control. The mind, he says, is actually often the biggest barrier when it comes to losing weight.

"Millions of people are trying to lose weight, and they are going about it in a reasonable way -- by trying to reduce calories. But you're going to slip from your diet plan. That pretty much happens to everyone," Forman said. "You could say the secret of helping people actually lose weight is preventing these lapses, so we concentrated on how to best do that."

The new training game is called DietDash. The first step will have you disclose the types of sugary foods you eat most often. This will help determine which of the four versions of the game you will follow. For example, if someone lists soda and chocolate chip cookies as their favorite treats, those items will appear in the game.

Players will then be instructed to press certain keys to respond to different types of images, including pictures of tasty sugary foods and pictures of healthy foods. As the player's inhibitory control improves, the game speed increases for an extra challenge. Users are instructed to play this game for eight minutes per day, every day for six weeks.

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Other studies have shown this type of training at least temporarily affects users' eating habits. A study is in progress to see if the training helps over the long term as well and if those changes actually lead to changes on the scale.
"We think this can translate to real-world behaviors, because just like any task, it improves with practice," says Dr. Forman.

The team has also come up with a second weight loss app called DietAlert. It has been developed with funding from Weight Watchers and the Obesity Society. It is designed to be utilized along with the WW app.

The program collects information about eating habits and uses an algorithm to determine when they are most likely to lapse from their diet plans. Once it learns your particular habits, it will send out a warning alert and offer a tip to help you stick to your diet plan.

The DietAlert app distinguishes itself from the hundreds of other diet applications available, because it not only tracks a person's eating habits, but it uses that information to give personalized advice.

Journal Reference:
Evan M. Forman, et al. Mindful decision making and inhibitory control training as complementary means to decrease snack consumption. Appetite, 2016; 103: 176 DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2016.04.014

Photo Credit: By Pang Kakit - Own work, GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons

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