According to new research from the University of Exeter, using a brain-training app can help people eat less junk food and lose weight.
The Food Trainer (FoodT app) teaches people to touch on images of nutritious foods but to stop tapping when they see unhealthy snacks, creating a link between these foods and stopping.
The new study from the universities of Exeter and Helsinki found that playing the game once a day for a month reduced junk food intake by an average of one point on an eight-point scale (the scale ranges from four or more items per day to one or zero items per month).
People who used the app more frequently also reported significant improvements in their eating habits. About half of the 1,234 participants in the study followed the recommendation and played the game at least ten times.
Across all participants, an average weight loss of half a kilogram (just over a pound) as well as a minor increase in the amount of healthy food consumed.
Prof. Natalia Lawrence, of the University of Exeter, stated that “as an example, someone who ate each junk food two to four times a week reduced this to once a week after using the app regularly for a month.”
“Overall, the findings are encouraging. The app is free and it only takes about four minutes per day- so it’s something people really can do- and our results suggest it is effective. There’s some evidence that the benefits were stronger for people who were more overweight,” she added.
Prof. Lawrence pointed out that “we would expect to see this, because the app targets mechanisms that lead people to become overweight, such as the strong urge to approach and consume tempting junk foods.”
Dr. Matthias Aulbach, of the University of Helsinki, added that “for anyone with unhealthy eating habits perhaps developed during lockdown- FoodT might be helpful.”
The study used FoodT usage data, and the app also asks questions about how often users eat certain foods, along with other information like their age and weight.
According to the findings, using the app regularly was connected to bigger changes in eating habits.
“If you’re trying to teach the brain something new, it’s a good idea to space out the learning over multiple sessions,” said Dr. Aulbach.
“It may be helpful to do the training in different contexts not just at home but at work and elsewhere, so the associations you learn don’t just relate to one location. From our results, it seems important that you do the training regularly and don’t just stop. So keep it interesting and relevant for yourself so you won’t get bored with it: personalize the app as far as possible and pick the foods that you find hard to resist,” he added.
The researchers emphasized that their findings should be interpreted cautiously because there was no control (comparison) group and other factors (such as the possibility that persons who did more training were also more motivated to reduce weight) could have influenced the results.