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How to Eat Healthier by Tricking Your Brain

Remember what you had for breakfast this morning? Congratulations, that simple thought just helped keep your weight in check today! (That was the easiest diet tip ever, right?) According to a new study done by the University of Oxford, people who actively recall the last thing they ate before a meal eat less during the meal. The researchers found that people with dementia would eat a full meal even after just having finished one, not because they were physically hungry but because they couldn't remember eating. They concluded that remembering your previous food helps cue your body's hunger signals. (For more healthy eating hacks, download the latest special edition of our digital magazine—free!)

Surprised that something so simple can have such a big impact on how we eat? Don't be, says Daniel Truong, M.D., neurologist and medical director at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA. "People think that if you feel hungry you must be hungry, that it's all just biology and hormones, but your mind is really in charge," he says. "Thanks to millions of years of evolution, food and memory are linked for survival. Your memory drives eating and can override both hormones and instinct."

To help you use your brain power to control your willpower, Truong offers four more mind control tricks to make you the ultimate diet Jedi:

Out of Sight, Out of Mind
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You caved at the store and bought chocolate, but you haven't lost the battle just yet: Keeping treats out of sight is the best way to avoid overindulging, says Truong. Studies have shown that seeing an ad for a mouthwatering treat can actually make your mouth water in anticipation of eating it. Short-circuit that instinct by keeping your goodies in a place you won't see them every day. (Find out how to Fight Food Cravings Without Going Crazy.)

Stick to One Flavor
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Sometimes you just don't care about all the reasons not to, you just want to eat that treat. In this situation, Truong recommends simply keeping your favorite (and only your favorite) snack handy, saying that you're less likely to overindulge if only one flavor is available. "There's a phenomenon called flavor adaptation. If you continue to eat the same food, eventually you won't want it as much. Humans love variety, so the more textures and tastes you have available, the more your mind want to try it all."

Get Excited
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You might think that being really amped up to eat would make you inhale everything in sight, but Truong says we actually eat a lot more when we're emotional. "When we get really happy or excited, our brains release the neurochemical dopamine, which makes you feel good and also has the effect of suppressing your appetite." In addition to eating food you enjoy, he recommends creating an atmosphere similar to your favorite restaurant. Making eating a pleasureable experience will help make it more memorable! (Start with these 10 Recipes Tastier Than Takeout Food.)

Change Your Memories
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One too many ice cream bars in a night may lead you to swear them off forever, thanks to the powerful effect of learned food aversions. "A lot of our enjoyment of eating is related to the experience of eating that food," he explains. "If we associate a particular food with making us feel badly, we don't want to eat it anymore." So instead of focusing on double-chocolate brownies as a forbidden food, try remembering how sick you feel after eating half a pan. You can also use this in reverse by remembering how strong you feel when you eat a veggie-packed salad. 

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