Is it possible to use information about why your palate chooses taste over health to retrain your brain to make better choices? It isn’t just about sheer willpower, as research points to the processes taking place within the brain that explains why it’s so difficult to resist something that tastes good versus something that is good for you.
Among the innumerable things vying for your limited attention, food choices can be some of the fastest decisions your make. Unfortunately, fast choices can mean that we don’t take enough time to properly plan a complete and balanced meal, and your brain is actually predisposing you to choose based on taste instead of what you actually know.
Knowing that a banana is a healthier option than a banana split isn’t enough to save your nutrition plans from being derailed. A study followed participants and found that your brain decides what to eat in just 400 milliseconds’ time based on what you have experienced or believe a food choice will taste like.
How long does it take your brain to slow down and process that you should choose something healthier? On average, it will take you double the amount of time for your brain to compute what’s a better choice when you’re already hungry—and if you’re trying to make the decision on the spot, it will be even harder for you to choose the healthier option.
With the brain prioritizing how something tastes over spending the amount of time necessary to think about the composition or consequences of a food choice, it’s becoming evident that it’s impossible to make good decisions all of the time. Add in the extra pressure of having to decide quickly, and it will be even harder to pick the healthier choice. Taking the pressure and stigma off of people who seem to be more taste-oriented means that those people could benefit the most from a pre-planned meal plan that takes the guesswork out of what’s next on the menu.
By learning to take that extra time to think carefully about food, you can make better choices; and also find yourself to be more forgiving when those choices don’t always lean towards the healthy side.
Sullivan, N.J., Huettel, S.A. Healthful choices depend on the latency and rate of information accumulation. Nat Hum Behav (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01154-0