In a new study, researchers find that a simple instruction to change people’s thinking as mealtime approaches can help cut calories.
The researchers from the University of Tübingen, Germany encouraged people to concentrate on different types of information when planning their meal.
They found these people chose different portion size for their meals. This suggests adopting a health-focused mindset produced better outcomes than focusing on pleasure or the desire to fill up.
Previously, the researchers have learned that lean people can be encouraged to make healthier food choices by adopting a ‘health-focused mindset’.
Brain scans showed how this approach can trigger activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is linked to self-control and future meal planning.
This study demonstrates how a shift in mindset might assist individuals who are overweight or obese.
In the study, participants ranged from normal weight to obese. They were told to focus their mindset on either the health effects of food, expected pleasure, or their intention to stay full until dinner time, while choosing their portion size for lunch.
In addition, in a control condition they chose their actual portion size for lunch without any mindset instruction.
The results showed that compared to the control condition (no mindset instruction), participants in all weight categories selected smaller portions when prompted to think about health.
By contrast, those who adopted the fullness mindset took larger portions. In pleasure mindset condition, obese people selected larger portions than normal-weight participants.
This tendency was linked to a higher response in a taste-processing region of the brain. In the fullness mindset, obese persons showed weak brain responses in regions for reward and physiological regulation.
The researchers suggest that people of all weights responded positively to a healthy mindset instruction, and that this approach should be considered in strategies for healthy weight management.
The findings also suggest that advertising healthy food options as “tasty” might be not good because this has the potential to induce a pleasure mindset, which leads to larger serving sizes in people who want to lose weight.
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