A computer game to reduce snacking and lose weight?

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

"The aim of this research is to develop an intervention to help people control their eating behaviour," wrote the researchers.
"The aim of this research is to develop an intervention to help people control their eating behaviour," wrote the researchers.

Related tags Nutrition

A simple computer game could help people reduce snacking and lose weight by associating certain foods with the act of saying 'no', British psychologists have found.

The online game, developed by a team of researchers from the universities of Exeter and Cardiff, has not yet been commercialised but was found to be effective in a scientific study.

The game required participants to repeatedly avoid selecting pictures of eight types unhealthy food - known as stop training - whilst selecting other ‘neutral’ images, such as fruit or clothes.

This meant that the subjects began associating the unhealthy foods with saying no.  

On average, participants who had resisted selecting pictures of unhealthy snacks lost 0.7 kg in weight and consumed 220 fewer calories each day during the week of training. They also gave lower liking ratings for the energy-dense foods than before the intervention.

Each subject was given a food diary and continued to report the weight loss and reduced snacking effects up to six months after the experiment.

Lead researcher Natalia Lawrence of the University of Exeter, said: “These findings are among the first to suggest that a brief, simple computerised tool can change people’s everyday eating behaviour. It is exciting to see the effects of our lab studies translate to the real world."

She said that while the research was still in its infancy and the effects relatively modest, the results showed that a cognitive training approach to weight loss could work.

Such training might be suitable as a complementary addition to existing weight loss programmes or therapies for improving eating behaviour and life style, the researchers suggested.

“It is free, easy to do and 88% 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 behaviour change interventions based on underlying psychological processes,” ​said Lawrence.

The study

The study involved 83 adults aged 23 to 65 years and with a BMI ranging from 21 to 46 (healthy to obese). All participants habitually consumed energy-dense food at least three times a week. Both the active and control groups completed the ten-minute computer game four times in one week.

After completing the task, participants were offered an ad-lib amount of crisps to eat. The researchers then weighed the crisps that were left and found that participants in the experimental group ate 33% less than the control. After one week's interventions, participants in the active group lost an average of 0.7 kg in weight and consumed 220 fewer calories.

The project has received funding from the European Research Council, and the researchers are now planning to test the stop training on a larger scale as part of a registered trial.

Source: Appetite Journal

Published  February 2015, pp. 91-103,  doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.11.006

“Stopping to food can reduce intake. Effects of stimulus specificity and individual differences in dietary restraint.”

Authors: N. Lawrence, F. Verbruggen et al.

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Games can help but to a limited extent.

Posted by Lillian,

These games would provide the only with the psychological advantage and would not be able to help you in actually losing weight and the reason for this is that these games help you in recognising the foodstuffs which you should not be consuming and these can help you only when you are following a proper diet.

When I was following the diet of Lisa plog, I have also used to such a game and even though it was not as advanced as this one but it helped me know the foodstuffs which I needed to avoid and I ended up losing 22 pounds. Such psychological advantages can be great in disciplining you to follow the diet. Google for "lisa plog diet plans" and you would be able to find her diet.

If you're thinking that only relying on this game would help you in losing weight then you are wrong because unless and until you couple that with the proper diet you would never be able to lose weight.

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