Severe, epidemic, and crisis are just three of the words used to describe rising rates of obesity. Four out of ten Americans are now classified as “obese”, and this figure is forecast to grow rapidly to encompass nearly half of all adults by 2030.
While a sensible diet and exercise plan is critical to lose weight and keep it off, researchers are also pointing to a shockingly easy and effective technique that can help you in your weight loss journey.
Best of all, it requires nothing more than sitting in a chair and using your imagination.
Despite the many diets, exercise routines, weight loss drugs and supplements, obesity rates are skyrocketing. Current methods used to tackle ever expanding waistlines are clearly failing, so maybe it’s time for an entirely new approach.
A recent study suggests we can think away excess pounds.
The meal-recall effect
At one time it was assumed that we eat when we feel hungry and stop when we feel full, but this isn’t so. Memories of a meal also play crucial roles in how much we eat.
For instance, in one experiment, patients with dense amnesia – who have almost no memory for events that occur beyond the preceding sixty seconds – readily consumed a second lunch ten to thirty minutes after finishing the first and even began eating a third.
This suggests we need a memory of a recent meal, dubbed the ‘meal-recall effect’, to maintain a sense of fullness. Similarly, less extreme findings have been demonstrated in people without amnesia.
Not paying much attention to a meal because of some distraction leads to a weaker memory of it. This has been shown to increase the amount eaten.
To take this research further a team from Cambridge University conducted a study to see if certain mental tasks affect snacking behavior. They gave 151 volunteers a meal and asked them to finish it unless they already felt full.
Then, the volunteers were sent away, asked not to eat anything more, and return three hours later.
Lose 122 calories with your thoughts
When the volunteers returned the research team divided them into five groups. In three of the groups, participants had to recall their recent lunch. They were asked to either imagine moving the food around the plate, imagine it in detail or imagine it was twice as big and filling as it really was.
The fourth group was shown a photograph of spaghetti in tomato sauce and asked to write a description of it before imagining moving it around a plate. The fifth group was given the same task, but the spaghetti noodles were swapped for paperclips and rubber bands.
All five groups then took part in a bogus “taste test” of assorted cookies, rating them for various taste and sensory attributes. They were told to eat as many as they wished. The test was simply a ruse for covertly assessing snacking.
The group that imagined a meal was twice as filling consumed a third fewer chocolate chip cookies, chocolate fingers and other snacks, which translates into 122 fewer calories. The researchers described imagining a meal as bigger and more filling than it really is as “a very effective method of reducing biscuit intake.”
Joanna Szypula, who led the study, explained, saying, “Your mind can be more powerful than your stomach in dictating how much you eat. Our findings could give people a method to control their eating with their mind.”
She also suggests we practice “mindful eating.”
Mindful eating and other no sweat weight loss strategies
“Not paying attention to our meals is something most of us are guilty of, as watching TV, listening to music, or playing games whilst you eat have all been shown to increase food intake,” Ms. Szypula said.
To make meal memories stronger for what we’re eating, and to feel fuller, we can use a strategy called “mindful eating.” This involves focusing on the odor, taste, and texture of the meal, whilst being aware of every bite taken. This will also lead to eating more slowly.
This strategy, she says, “can greatly reduce the amount of food we eat.”
Other similar strategies may sound wacky but are based on scientific research. For example:
- Cut and scatter food. Cut food into small pieces and scatter them across the plate. This creates the perception that more is being eaten than is actually the case.
- Shrink the plate. An analysis of multiple studies found halving plate size led, on average, to a 30 percent reduction in food intake.
- Eat off a blue plate. Blue is calming and slows down food intake. In one study people eating off a blue plate ate less than those using a white or red plate.
- Use children’s cutlery. One study found that using a small spoon for porridge decreased intake by eight percent. Other studies suggest using children’s cutlery leads to smaller, slower bites and less food eaten.
- Smell mint. Mint is calming and acts as a natural appetite suppressant. One study found that after six months those who sniffed a bunch of mint before eating enjoyed a 50 percent decrease in cravings, snacked less, and lost around 15 pounds more than the control group.
If you’re struggling with weight loss, try these tips. They’re easy, safe, and almost all of them are free. But most important, change your diet.
Avoid processed foods and eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, lean meats, and healthy oils, such as coconut oil. If you can do this while also avoiding sugar and soft drinks, you’ll start to notice a difference in your waistline.
It’s also important to have a regular exercise routine. And it doesn’t have to be extreme. Even simple walking is proven to help promote weight loss and lift your overall health.