Using a brain training app helps people eat less junk food and lose weight, new research suggests.
Food Trainer (FoodT app) trains people to tap on images of healthy foods, but to stop when they see unhealthy snacks, creating an association between these foods and stopping.
The new study, conducted by the Universities of Exeter and Helsinki, found that playing the game about once a day for a month led to an average reduction of one point in junk food consumption on an eight-point scale (the scale ranges from four or more articles per day, to one or zero articles per month).
Overall, people who used the app the most also reported bigger changes to their food intake.
About half of the 1,234 study participants followed the recommendation and played the game at least 10 times.
In all participants, an average weight loss of half a kilogram (just over a pound) and a small increase in healthy food intake were observed.
“As an example, someone who ate each junk food two or four times a week reduced this to once a week after using the app regularly for a month,” said Professor Natalia Lawrence, from the University of Exeter.
“Overall, the findings are really encouraging. The app is free and only takes about four minutes per day, so it is something that people can realistically do, and our results suggest that it is effective. “There is some evidence that the benefits were strongest for people who were more overweight.
“We would expect to see this, because the app targets the mechanisms that lead people to be overweight, such as the strong urge to reach out and eat the tempting junk food.”
Dr Matthias Aulbach from the University of Helsinki added: “For anyone with unhealthy eating habits, perhaps developed during confinement, FoodT could be helpful.”
The study, published in Appetite diary, used usage data from FoodT, and the app also periodically asks questions about how often users eat certain foods, along with other information like their age and weight.
The findings suggest that regular use of the app was linked to bigger changes in eating habits.
“If you are trying to teach the brain something new, it is a good idea to spread out the learning over several sessions,” said Dr. Aulbach.
“It can be helpful to do the training in different contexts, not just at home, but also at work and elsewhere, so that the associations you learn are not related to just one place.
“Based on our results, it seems important that you do the training regularly and don’t stop. So keep it interesting and relevant to you so you don’t get bored with it – customize the app as much as possible and choose the foods that are really hard for you to resist. “
The researchers emphasize that their findings should be interpreted with caution, because there was no control group (comparison) and other factors (such as the possibility that people who did more training were also separately more motivated to lose weight) could influence the results. results. .
Leaving a review on Google Play, one app user wrote: “Really useful. It seems to work on different levels, whether it is the association of the green / red circle of stop / go that makes you psychologically more aware, I’m not sure, but my cravings have been drastically reduced and I no longer eat at night without thinking. “
Fountain: Exeter University