Video games have been pioneering new techniques in weight loss for some time now, offering interactive experiences that allow you to exercise and track calories burned. But what about a computerized video game that can train your brain not to crave junk food in the first place? Researchers from the University of Exeter and Cardiff University in the UK are attempting to do just that, developing a video game that controls your need to snack and helps you shed pounds. In their new study published in the journal Appetite, psychologists are reporting success in the early stages of their new "brain training" game.

An average of 64 percent of adults are currently considered obese or overweight in the UK, mostly due to overeating and alcohol consumption. Researchers hope that by centering their new game on training players to resist these habits, they will ultimately allow participants to reach healthy weights.

Dr. Natalia Lawrence, along with her colleagues, designed the game in such a way to make unhealthy snacks less appealing. When playing the game, players must avoid pressing on images of unhealthy foods, like cookies, while pressing on other images, sometimes of more healthy food options in order to win. Researchers believe that by absentmindedly playing a game that conditions the mind to avoid unhealthy snacks, individuals will be less likely to eat high calorie foods when not playing. Previously conducted research carried out by the team showed that this form of training has the power to reign in calorie intake.

For the study, researchers worked collaboratively with Wellcome Trust, recruiting 83 adults between the ages of 23 and 65, with BMIs ranging from 21 to 46, otherwise considered healthy to obese. Researchers then asked participants to record their consumption of high-calorie foods, at least three times a week, and whether or not they had problems controlling their snacking habits.

The participants were asked to complete four 10-minute sessions of either the food-related game, or a control game session. One week before, training researchers weighed participants and gave participants food diaries in order to catalogue whether or not they desired to eat unhealthy foods. Researchers then weighed participants one week after training, asking them to fill out these diaries again to see if there was any change in preference.

The results showed that those who had participated in the food-related game sessions lost about 1.5 pounds on average, consuming 220 fewer calories per day. Researchers also saw a reduction in “liking” calorie-dense foods that were used within the game. Most surprisingly, the weight loss and decrease in unhealthy snacking was maintained over a six-month period after the gaming sessions. These effects were not observed within the control group of 42 participants.

Lawrence and her team are very pleased with their results and hope to explore further how brain training could possibly reduce snacking. “These findings are among the first to suggest that a brief, simple computerized tool can change people’s everyday behavior,” said Lawrence in a press release. “This research is still in its infancy and the effects are modest. Larger, registered trails with longer-term measures need to be conducted.”

Despite the need for more testing, Lawrence is optimistic that the training will prove successful. “Our findings suggest that this cognitive training approach is worth pursuing,” she said. “It is free, easy to do, and 88 percent of our participants said they would be happy to keep doing it and would recommend it to a friend. This opens up exciting possibilities for new behavior change interventions based on underlying psychological processes.”

Lawrence’s team has recently received the backing of the European Research Council and plans to test their new form of “stop” training within a larger trial.

Source: Lawrence N, et al. Appetite. 2015.