5 Ways to Trick Your Brain into Eating Healthy
The human brain is a complex device -- and we figure that, like all devices, there's always someone out there who has figured out how to hack it for their own benefit. More specifically, scientists bent on never having to diet again have discovered extremely simple techniques that you can use to trick yourself into having healthier eating habits. For example, you can ...
Use a Bigger Fork
Using a bigger fork makes you eat less food, as weird as that sounds. It's not that your wrist will be too tired to keep shoveling stuff into your mouth; it's that you'll simply feel full with less food than if you were eating with a regular-sized fork.
In one study, researchers invaded a restaurant over several days and gave random customers different types of forks. Half of the customers were given forks 20 percent larger than average size, while the other half were given forks 20 percent smaller. The researchers went through the diners' plates when they were done and measured how much food was eaten off of each of them, which isn't creepy at all.
Why go to a restaurant to look at a stranger's food when you could just join Instagram?
What they found out was that the people who were given larger forks left significantly more food on their plates than those with smaller forks. But why would larger bites make you eat less? Because sight plays a huge role in our eating habits. We rely on visual cues to guide us when we're eating (i.e., how much food we see on the plate), since it takes our nervous system a while to realize whether we're really full or not.
So, if your senses are telling your brain that you should be satisfied, the brain will decide that, what the hell, you might as well be. When you use a bigger fork, you'll see yourself making bigger dents in the overall food on the plate, fooling your brain into believing that you're overeating. With a smaller fork, the transition from "a lot of food" to "hardly any food at all" is more subtle, so you keep on snacking well past the point your thunder thighs would appreciate.
Next thing you know, your dining room has no furniture.
However, the "use a bigger fork" trick only works at regular meal times, where your goal is to eat until you're satisfied. If you're snacking (where your goal is to eat until your pants explode), using a bigger fork will simply make you eat more food.
Look at Healthy Food While You're Eating Something Else
Here's a simple trick to lose a few pounds: Keep healthier food around ... and don't eat it. Just let it sit there, looking disapprovingly at the pizza you're gorging on.
You smug motherfucker.
Why? It turns out that just having healthier food on your table makes you a more conscientious eater. According to researchers from Cornell University, even if you don't choose the healthier alternative in front of you, you're still going to make healthier choices than if you didn't have that fruit or salad there at all.
In their study, they went to a school cafeteria over several days and put different side options on the lunch line. On one day they placed sugary meals like applesauce and fruit cocktail on the counter, and on the next there were healthier things like green beans and bananas. Naturally, most of the students ignored the obvious attempt to make them eat better and just chose what they would normally choose.
It's like putting heroin next to an algebra textbook. Which would you choose?
Or at least that's what the kids thought they were doing. What the researchers found is that on the days when green beans and bananas were presented to them, even if students didn't take those items, their overall meals became healthier than on days when they were offered sugary items.
It's a priming effect -- just by being reminded that healthier food exists, subconsciously the kids felt guilty for not picking that food and ended up eating better. In other words, it's for the same reason you're less likely to curse when there is a priest sitting at your table.
"Did you hear the one about the priest ... and the altar boy ... who, uh, enriched each other's lives in a totally platonic way?"
Pretend You're Eating Fatty Foods
You might have seen recent studies that found that diet products are bad for you, and not just because of all the chemicals that make bacteria grow in your stomach. One reason appears to be that diet soda and other low-fat products make you fat because you believe that they don't.
And before you even ask, no, the same argument does not apply to condoms.
The way a meal is labeled is more important than you think. In one experiment, researchers gave people cookies that were labeled either medium or large and told them that they could take as many as they wanted. The catch? The medium and large cookies were the same size, and since people trust their brains more than they trust their guts, people who were eating the "medium" cookies ate more than those who were eating the "large" cookies, simply because they thought they were making a healthier choice.
But this isn't a purely psychological thing; there's actually a real bodily effect going on here. In our guts, we have this hunger hormone called ghrelin, which is pronounced "gremlin" with a thick Jamaican accent. Ghrelin, essentially, is what makes you eat -- more ghrelin in your system means more appetite, and less means you feel like those two slices of pizza were enough. But here's the thing: How much ghrelin is produced depends not just on how much you've eaten, but on how much you think you have.
"You see me eating four pieces of chicken, I see me eating only 20 percent of this bucket."
In one study, researchers from Yale University gave each subject a 380-calorie milkshake and told half of them that it was a high-fat 620-calorie milkshake, while the other half were told that it was a diet milkshake at 140 calories. Blood samples were taken while the subjects drank their milkshakes to record their ghrelin levels.
The results were clear: People who thought that they were drinking the high-fat shake had a significant decrease of ghrelin, while those under the assumption that they were sipping the sissy-boy shake had no ghrelin response at all, meaning they were still just as hungry as they were before. By tricking yourself into thinking that you're eating more, you can stop your body, both mentally and physiologically, from wanting more food. But there are also external things that can help you control your appetite ...
Pay Attention to the Size and Color of Your Plates
One common technique to make yourself eat less is simply using smaller plates -- not just because they hold less food, but because they make each plate seem fuller than it really is, which tricks your brain into thinking you've eaten more. What you might not know is that even the color of the plate impacts how much you eat.
Finally, you'll get some use out of your $500 "investment."
Researchers decided to test this idea during a college reunion, possibly because there are few social events where people will more systematically attack a buffet table. Attendees could get either a red or a white plate, and then they had the option of serving themselves pasta with tomato sauce or Alfredo sauce, which are red and white, respectively. This wasn't part of some patriotic theme: The researchers wanted the food to either blend in with the plate or stand out.
The experiment found that when people had plates that contrasted with the color of their meal, they served themselves 22 percent less food (32 grams) than those who had similar plate and food colors. So if you're trying to kick that eggplant habit, for example, simply throw away all your purple plates, and voila!
Even the potent Acapulco Aubergine cultivar is powerless against color coordination.
To take it a bit further, they also recorded the tablecloths of the serving tables (which were either red or white) and saw that again, when the food contrasted with the cloth background, people served themselves 10 percent less than others. It works for the same reason as the "smaller plates" trick: It's called the Delboeuf illusion, an optical effect where something will look bigger if you closely surround it with a larger object that contrasts with it. The more your plate contrasts with your food, the more you'll think you've served yourself and the less you'll end up eating.
But what if you feed exclusively on burgers and rarely use things like plates or forks? Believe it or not, there's still hope for you ...
Eat With Soft Lighting and Music
We mentioned before that there is a reason restaurants play music while you eat -- music affects mood, and mood affects eating habits. Well, if restaurants are trying to use this to brainwash you into spending more, can you use it to your own advantage, diet-wise?
Totally. Researchers, apparently as part of an ongoing dare to see who could spend the most days in a restaurant, set up shop in a fast food joint and measured how much diners were eating from their meals by weighing their trays as they came and went.
"Also, we'll need to measure any BMs you've taken in the past 24 hours."
After assessing the average amount of food eaten, the researchers tinkered with the restaurant's lighting and music, making both a few notches softer. Once more, they looked at how much food the people were eating. The difference was significant: Under the softer lighting and music, customers ate 18 percent less food (even though they ordered the same amount), consuming an average of 775 calories, compared to 949 calories. So why does this happen?
Bear in mind that those people didn't just eat less -- they were also more satisfied with the smaller amount they consumed. The diners rated their experience as significantly better than those who'd eaten under the usual brighter lights and louder music.
This is why Olive Garden doesn't set up shop at a Slayer concert.
As it turns out, this isn't just a case of people wanting to get out of there faster when their senses are being assaulted from all directions, although that's certainly a factor. According to the researchers, since it's easier for you to enjoy your meal when your environment is calmer, you take slower bites and end up eating less overall. On the other hand, the lights and music stress you out so you eat more, and faster (note: fast food restaurants want you to leave quickly so it frees up a table).
So, if you're trying to lose weight, that gives you two options: Eat at fancy restaurants only, or start wearing thick shades and noise-cancelling earphones to Burger King.
"Introducing the new Bose Fat Assassin calorie-reducing headphones."