Learning to Eat Less

When you think about getting healthier or losing weight, tricking your brain probably isn’t on the list of things you’ve chosen to do. But it might be the most important.


Research shows that a lot of how you eat and drink affects the way your brain processes that information and how it subsequently asks the rest of your body to treat it. Studies show, for instance, that people who listen to slow classical music take 3.83 bites per minute, while those who listen to fast music take about 4.4. So, if you’re looking to fit into those prepregnancy jeans any time soon, turn off The Killers and play some Mozart instead.

Neurogastronomy — a term that didn’t exist until 2006 — is now gaining acceptance in the popular lexicon. The term was coined in the journal Nature Insight by Gordon M. Shepherd, a professor of neurobiology at Yale. “People hadn’t realized how central food flavor is to animal, and especially human, behavior,” says Shepherd. Dan Han — chief of University of Kentucky’s Neuropsychology Service’s clinical section, and founding member of the International Society of Neurogastronomy — has noted that the field connects “neurosciences, clinical health sciences, culinary arts, and agriculture and food technology.”

Can you use neurogastronomy to change your eating behaviors? It turns out that you can. Here are some simple ways.

SIZE

If you’re looking to cut back on your portions, you can’t go wrong with using smaller plates and bowls. A study in the Journal of Consumer Research noted that people tend to serve themselves considerably less in small bowls than they do in large ones. An earlier study found that even nutritional experts ate more ice cream when using larger dinnerware, though it seemed to only happen when they were dining with other people and not alone.

Plate size isn’t the only thing to be aware of. Glasses and forks matter, too. Taller glasses and bigger forks, to be precise. A study published in the British Medical Journal discovered that people tended to pour 20 to 30 percent more alcohol into short, wide glasses than into tall, narrow ones of the same volume.

And yet another study from the Journal of Consumer Research found that participants who ate with bigger forks ate considerably less than those with smaller ones. Since we’re on the subject of size, let’s talk about food portions.

First, as recommended by Arizona State University’s psychology department, cut up your food into smaller pieces. This will trick your brain into thinking you’re eating more than you are, so you’re likely to eat less.

Speaking of which, a study published in Obesity found that participants ate 25.2 percent fewer calories when eating from 100-calorie snack packs than from larger bags. Remember when you told yourself that you’d finish that large packet over a period of days? You were lying.

COLOR

It’s not just size that matters when it comes to healthy eating — color does also.


The first order of the day, according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, is to make sure your plate or bowl is a different color than your food. The bigger the difference, in fact, the less likely you are to over-serve yourself. So, repeat with me: The pasta goes into the green bowl, tomato soup inside the white one, and white rice onto a black plate.

And not to get too anal about it, but tablecloth color matters, too. Consumer Research published a report in which it noted that when the tablecloth color matched the dishware color, participants served themselves less food.


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