There’s a psychologist called Eric Robinson who has a surprising tool for weight loss.
Clue: we all have one, but we don’t use it as much as we could and we are always losing it.
I first came across Robinson’s work in this BBC article How to curb hunger pangs with your mind and immediately I was intrigued. I’ve long believed that we underestimate the role the mind plays in our eating habits, but had not read much about this... until now!
Here’s a bit of backstory to save you from reading the BBC article.
Robinson stumbled across this idea when he noticed that people with terrible memories - those suffering from anterograde amnesia - would have no recollection of any of the food they had eaten 20 minutes prior. In a study, two men were given a plate of sandwiches and cake which they ate until they were full. 15 minutes later they were given another plate, and the the two amnesiacs tucked in a second time. They had forgotten that they had already eaten!
Isn’t that interesting? You would think that our bodies would know if we had eaten or not and whether we were ACTUALLY hungry. But apparently not. In fact, our body and brain can be easily fooled.
Here’s a brilliant study that proves it. Jeff Brunstrom at the University of Bristol asked his study participants to eat a bowl of soup. Simple right? Ha! well, unbeknownst to them he hooked a pipe to the bowl through the table which meant that he could top up their soup without them noticing.
What he found was soup-er interesting. How much they snacked later, depended only on how much soup appeared in the bowl at the beginning - big bowl or small bowl - and NOT how much they actually ate. So, if you thought that hunger was completely controlled by your body, think again! The mind has a much bigger role than we thought.
Brunstrom did another study. This time he asked people to eat with one hand while they played solitaire with the other and what he found was that because they were distracted, they struggled to recall the meal later and pigged out on more biscuits later in the day.
This now starts drifting into the idea of mindful eating; being present and focused on the food you’re eating… noticing the colours, the taste, the sensation of the food in your mouth, the smell and how it feels going down your throat. In fact Brusnstom asked some obese women in another study to eat a plate of sandwiches mindfully. When it came to snacking 3 hours later, the mindful eaters ate 30% fewer calories.
That’s pretty staggering!
But wait! there’s more… There's a group of researchers that have found that by simply visualising you cravings - in full glorious technicolour 3D - seems to trick the mind that it’s actually eaten.
Now this visualising trick is nothing new. We know that the mind can’t tell the difference between something imagined and real, which is what makes visualisation such a powerful technique for athletes. So we shouldn’t be surprised that we can use it when it comes to food.. but who would have imagined it would work, when we thought that our hunger pangs were controlled by our body?
Now, if I had to choose between mindful eating and visualisation, I know which I’d rather choose… the eating one!
So how do we become more mindful when it comes to eating?
Well, you might be interested to know that there are some core principles of mindful eating.
Michelle May’s book, Eat What You Love Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle she shares the mindful eating cycle which is basically a series of questions designed to create a gap between your I-want-food-trigger and your response; eating.
Since most people eat for reasons other than physical hunger, “Why do I eat?” is a great place to start if you want to change your behaviour.
“Why do I eat?” may include triggers such as physical hunger, challe