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Scientists Say Playing This 10-Minute Game Stops Junk Food Cravings

University of Exeter psychologists claim to have invented a smartphone game that’ll help you choose fruit over chocolate.

by Daisy Meager
Jan 18 2017, 2:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Mack Male

You started the year with every intention of swapping those afternoon Galaxy bars for handfuls of almonds. But we're three weeks into January and already the nuts are cast aside, and the guy in the cornershop has a bar of Dairy Milk ready and waiting for your lunchtime visit.

But now scientists are claiming to have developed a smartphone app that could help you resist the junk food and opt for healthy snacks. All it involves, they say, is playing a game for ten minutes a day.

READ MORE: Scientists Might Have Figured Out How to Stop You From Binge Eating

Researchers at the University of Exeter released their Food Trainer app earlier this week and claim that playing the game regularly reduces calorie intake. They say that in a study of 83 adults, people who played the game four times a week for a few minutes each day ate on average 220 fewer calories per day (the equivalent of those three Digestive biscuits you inhaled at your desk yesterday.)

But when the researchers say "game," they aren't talking about a quick Mario Kart session.

The Exeter psychologists' brain-training game flashes up images of "healthy" and "unhealthy" foods, and asks the user to react by clicking on only the healthy pics. Half an hour after playing the game, users are asked whether they have experienced any cravings.

exeter-food-training-game

The Food Trainer app. Screenshot courtesy The University of Exeter.

On the official Food Trainer website, the researchers explain that the game re-programmes the brain's reward system. They say it does this by increasing "the activity in parts of the prefrontal cortex involved in controlling our behaviour and reducing activity in the parts of the brain involved in preparing and executing an action."

MUNCHIES reached out to Dr. Andrew Jones of the University of Liverpool's Psychological Sciences department to find out whether the Exeter researchers were onto something.

"Training people to inhibit to unhealthy foods reliably leads to a reduction of their unhealthy food choices and intake in the laboratory. However, the study goes one step further and shows some beneficial effect of training these behaviours in the 'real-world,'" he told us.

"These findings are important as they suggest that this type training may be a cost-effective way of providing many people with an intervention, which they can carry round with them and do in their own time, to aid weight-loss."

READ MORE: Teenagers Will Eat Healthily If They Think They're Sticking It to the Man

The Exeter researchers have made their Food Trainer app available for free to help those people looking to cut down on junk food, as well as collect further data on the long-term effectiveness of the game.

Well, anything's worth a try when that hankering for Hobnobs comes a-knocking.