Food For Thought: How You Think About Food May Help You Lose Weight

  • New research has given more credence to mind-manipulation techniques as a way to help people lose weight.


    One example comes from scientists at Brown University’s Miriam Hospital who presented their research results as part of The Obesity Society’s (TOS), Obesity Week Annual Society Meeting.


    Twenty-five patients, all with a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 30, were taught different thinking techniques and asked to use each at random for 30 seconds while looking at a picture. Techniques ranged from Distract (think about something other than food), to Now (concentrating on the immediate reward of the food).

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    While images of tempting foods such as pizza, french fries, and ice cream were shown to patients, Dr. Katheryn Demos and her team monitored brain wave activity. They found that when people were thinking about the long-term negative effects of junk foods, more activity was observed in the brain region that controls inhibitions and self-regulation.


    Because that focus on the long-term effects of junk food had the greatest impact in reducing unhealthy food cravings, the researchers believe it could enhance weight loss efforts—in addition, of course, to a consistent and healthy diet and exercise program.


    This research was adapted from a previous study to determine if brain techniques can help stop people from smoking. Similarly, researchers used mental distraction techniques to help people reduce the urge to smoke.


    Richard Weil, director of the Weight Loss Program at New York’s Mt. Sinai Hospital, and author of a similar study, believes that mental techniques have great potential. His study, also presented at the annual meeting, involved having patients tap their foreheads, ears, and feet to distract themselves from cravings. “The novelty of our study is that the subjects had severe obesity,” he said. This means that mental techniques may be universally effective, regardless of where people are in their weight-loss journey. Weil added, “This reinforces the idea that it’s possible to distract ourselves from craving even our favorite foods, no matter how much we weigh.”

    Sample sizes of both studies were small so more research needs to be done to test the  effectiveness of mental distraction techniques. But these techniques do show real promise in helping people change the bad eating habits that can take such a toll on their health. 

Published On: November 11, 2014