Using Our Minds to Control Our Eating

Obesity is a worldwide problem now, and dieting is a personal problem for many of us. It appears that both evolution and the food industry has conspired to make us desire fattening foods. Consequently, dieting is difficult. Are there any good techniques for controlling our eating? The answer is, yes. One of these techniques is our mind. Mindfulness can help us control our eating.

An experiment1 investigated whether eating lunch mindfully, in contrast to eating with distractions or no particular focus, reduced later snack intake. Twenty-nine female undergraduates either ate a fixed lunch while (1) focusing on the sensory characteristics of the food as they ate (food focus group), (2) reading a newspaper article about food (food thoughts control group), or (3) in the absence of any secondary task (neutral control group). Later in the afternoon cookie intake was measured as well as rated vividness of memory for lunch. Participants in the food focus group ate significantly fewer cookies that participants in both the food thoughts control group or the neutral control group. Rated appetite before the snack session was lower in the food focus group than in the other two groups. Their rated vividness of their memory of lunch was higher in the food focus group. The rated vividness of lunch memory was negatively correlated with snack intake.

This study strongly suggests that memory plays an important role in appetite control. Paying attention to food while eating enhances this meal memory.

So to control our appetites we should not eat while we are either watching television or reading. Moreover, if we concentrate on the meal and the enjoyment of the meal, our subsequent hunger and desire for snacks will lessen. Conversation remains an open issue. Conversation typically slows down our consumption of food, but if it takes our minds off what we are eating, it might be problematic. Perhaps its best to work comments about the meal into our conversations.

1Higgs, S., & Donohoe, J.E. (2011). Focusing on food during lunch enhances lunch memory and decreases later snack intake. Appetite, Aug57(1):202-6. Doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.04.016. Epib2011 May4.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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