Should I have a second serve of roast? Should I go out for ice-cream? Should I see my ex for dinner? We often puzzle ourselves with these kinds of questions associated with our eating habits. We don’t just resume to deciding if one meal is healthy or not, we give everything extra meaning, trying to rationalize and decide if it’s ok to do it or not. It’s not only food we surround with this type of dilemmas, and even though we think they’re inoffensive thoughts, they may be more harmful than we admit.
Hundreds of studies taken during time have considered the power of mind over people’s eating habits and scientists have faced several interesting realities. The fact that our waitress is overweight is linked to our own weight or that labels truly influence taste & perception, may seem like some TV-show trivia, but they are actually tested in real life. I decided to let you in on the most interesting ways our mind plays with our eating (AND DIET) so you can beat your brain at its own game.
Follow these surprising insights below and I would love to know if you have verified any of them in your own day to day life.
1. When are you really full?
As we discussed in our article about mindful eating, we tend to think we eat as much as we need. Wrong! The quantity of food we ingest is dependent on lots of factors, including the way our plate looks, how the food smells or who we eat it with. Our mind plays this trick on us and if we don’t pay close attention, our medium portion turns into an extra-large because of this fake hunger feeling or just wanting to prolongue the experience.
2. If they say it’s bad, it must be
This is a matter of influence & perception: if you hear/read about something being bad, you start thinking the same. For example, it is a common belief that fat foods are bad for you. This leads to people avoiding small snacks with high-fat content in favor of large snacks with low-fat content or consuming more food at “healthy” restaurants – wrong on so many levels and you know it. We can call this a genuine mind trick, so now you know that not everything labeled bad is necessarily bad.
3. Taste fades in time
Unbelievable, right? But think about how much salt your older aunt needs. One study found that the ability to detect salt is most affected while aging and, depending on the flavor, older people may need between 2 and 9 times as much of a condiment to experience the same taste. Men seem to be particularly affected by this loss in the ability to taste. Yet again, mind-diet: 1-0.
4. Fat waitress = fat customers
This is definitely one of the most interesting international findings and a great example on how context can affect your choice of food. McFerran et al. (2010) found that people who were dieting ate more food when encouraged to choose unhealthy snacks by an obese waitress than when the waitress was thin. The opposite effect was registered for those who weren’t dieting. They ended up eating more when the waitress was thin. This may be simply because attractive (thin) people tend to be more persuasive.
There’s also a theory about fat friends leading to getting fat, but that’s rather simple to solve – try to stick to what’s good for you and don’t cave to social pressure!
5. Supressed food thoughts lead to eating more
I’m sure you’ve experienced this one. Say you’re on a diet and one day you get a craving for a chocolate bar. You deny this small pleasure, but it sticks its head out again the next day. And the next. Until it catches you at a moment when you’re really vulnerable or really hungry. What do you do then? You eat the whole pack. Now you have a name for this behaviour – suppressed food thoughts lead to binge eating. And now you know why cheat days were invented and seem to work for so many people dieting.
6. Mood affects food
This mind trick is really simple: if you’re in a good mood you tend to eat healthier things and take care of yourself more. If something bad happened to you (or you simply have a bad day), you’re going to indulge in some fries or lasagna. The very latest research, however, suggests that eating fruit and vegetables one day can actually improve your mood the next day (White et al., 2013), so now you have another reason to peel that orange.
7. Eating ideas is actually very tasty
Our mind started playing with us in this aspect the moment we started eating crazy stuff and bragging about it. It’s called ‘Conceptual consumption‘, and it’s defined as our desire to tick boxes on our experiential CVs. You’re going to eat the starfish cake and maybe even like it, because you want to know how it feels and of course, you want to be able to tell people you had the experience. Mind & society have the upper game on this!
Of course there are many more ways (complicated or very easy) we let our mind play tricks on us and as you see, habits and attitudes develop at the same pace as our social & economical life. We can’t beat our brain and any game, but it’s good to be informed and maybe win a round or two sometimes!
Until next time, stay healthy & happy,