If you’re one of the many people trying to respect a well thought out diet, yet failing, a new study has found that you can blame it all on day to day stress and the human brain’s poor ability to deal with it. Simply put, unpleasant experiences in everyday life will almost always sabotage your self-control.
The research team says that when people find themselves under stress, the brain’s signal for taste becomes a lot stronger (or “louder”) than a person’s intention to adhere to healthy foods. What’s more, it really doesn’t matter whether the levels of stress are modest or severe
Todd Hare, senior author and neuroscientist from the University of Zurich, gave a statement explaining that in order to be able to regulate and to control our decision-making process, different areas of our brain have to have a complex interplay between them.
He went on to add that “There’s not just one region or node [of the brain] that turns on and off to establish self-control; they have to all sync up and work in unison. Stress disrupts that synchrony”.
For their study, Hare and his colleagues picked out 51 people, hooked them up to fMRI brain scanners, and asked them to choose the foods that they prefer. The goal was to see how their decision-making processes affected the brains of the subjects.
The one thing all of the subjects had in common was that they were trying to maintain a healthy diet, however they also admitted that they sometimes chose to eat unhealthy foods. To the researchers this made them the ideal candidates to help them understand how moderate, everyday stress levels affect what people decide to eat.
The results are that much more accurate as the researchers presented subjects with real options, not hypothetical ones, and the subjects actually had to eat the foods that they chose. The main question they had to ask themselves was if they wanted to go for taste of if they wanted to go for health, and which of the options would be better for them.
The belief that the study was based on was that delicious yet unhealthy foods represented immediate rewards, whereas healthy foods represented rewards in the long run.
The subjects were divided into two (2) groups – 29 of them were asked to let researchers videotape them while they immersed their hands in ice-water before the food test, and the other 22 subjects acted as a control group and did not have to endure any kind of stressful experience.
They were then showed a set of food photos while they were hooked them up to an fMRI brain scanning machine. The images portrayed an unhealthy food and a healthy food, with the healthy choice even being outlined with a white frame sometimes, in order to suggest that it was the recommended option.
The fMRI machine revealed that three (3) different areas of the brain activate when someone has to choose which food to eat, and that the relationships between these areas change during this process.
The subjects who had to endure the ice-water test chose to eat the tasty, unhealthy foods a lot more often.
Silvia Maier, neuroscientist from the University of Zurich, the Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research, gave a statement informing that if the healthy and the unhealthy foods were closely related as far as their taste goes, the subjects usually picked the healthy choice.
But if the healthy and the unhealthy foods were very different from one another, taste wise, the subjects usually picked the unhealthy choice.
It’s important to note that what a person considers tasty varies widely from individual to individual, however people generally agree on what’s considered healthy.
The study was published earlier this week, on Wednesday (August 5, 2015), in the journal Neuron.
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