Trick­ing the mind into healthy habits

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By SARAH KNAPTON

Eat­ing healthily could be as sim­ple as ditch­ing straws and iced wa­ter, or chang­ing the colour of your crock­ery, ac­cord­ing to a psy­chol­o­gist at Ox­ford Univer­sity.

Pro­fes­sor Charles Spence be­lieves it is pos­si­ble to feel sat­is­fied while con­sum­ing fewer calo­ries with a few brain hacks which trick the mind into healthy habits.

Prof Spence, who helps He­ston Blu­men­thal cre­ate his mul­ti­sen­sory din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, claims that en­joy­ment of food is largely emo­tional.

He sug­gests ramp­ing up the aroma and tex­ture of a meal so the brain can eas­ily tell when it has had enough to eat. Drink­ing through a straw sup­presses much of the smell of a drink, which can lead to over­con­sump­tion. Like­wise drink­ing iced-wa­ter with a meal numbs the palate and can lead to eat­ing too much.

“The more food sen­sa­tions you can muster, the bet­ter,” said Prof Spence. “Stronger aroma, more tex­ture all helps your brain de­cide when it’s had enough. You should never use a straw to drink. It elim­i­nates all the or­thonasal ol­fac­tory cues that are nor­mally such a large part of the en­joy­ment.

“Be sure to in­hale the aroma of your food fre­quently, af­ter all, this is where the ma­jor­ity of the plea­sure re­sides. What­ever you do don’t drink iced wa­ter with your meals. It numbs the taste buds, plain and sim­ple.

“Some re­searchers have even gone so far as to sug­gest that the North Amer­i­can pref­er­ence for more highly sweet­ened foods may, in part, be linked to all the iced wa­ter they drink at meal­times.”

In his new book Gas­tro­physics, Prof Spence also en­cour­ages peo­ple to eat from smaller — and if pos­si­ble red — plates. Re­search has shown that eat­ing from a plate that is twice the usual size can make peo­ple in­ad­ver­tently eat 40 per cent more food. The colour red trig­gers avoid­ance in the brain and makes din­ers feel less hun­gry.

Eat­ing from a heavy bowl in the lap, rather than on the ta­ble, also tricks the brain into eat­ing far less food, be­cause the weight fools the mind into think­ing there is more in the dish than is ac­tu­ally there.

Swap­ping cut­lery for chop­sticks also helps slow down eat­ing so the brain can catch up with the stom­ach, a trick which can also be achieved by eat­ing with the non-dom­i­nant hand.

“Try to eat slowly and mind­fully, and yes that means turn­ing the TV off,” he added.

“Eat­ing with the TV on is one of the worst things you can do in terms of in­creased con­sump­tion. Find­ing that peo­ple eat 15 per cent more food with the telly on as com­pared to when it is off is not un­usual. The dan­ger is we sim­ply fail to pay at­ten­tion to food-re­lated stim­u­la­tion.

The next time you find your­self eat­ing in front of the TV or com­puter think care­fully about what you are do­ing. Mind­ful eat­ing and drink­ing is im­por­tant in terms of in­creased en­joy­ment and quite pos­si­ble in­creased sati­ety too.

Other tips in­clude:

Hide food — it re­ally is a case of out of sight out of mind. Any­thing you can do to make food dif­fi­cult to get will help cut calo­ries.

Split up the por­tions — cut a pizza or cake into six pieces rather than four.

Drink more wa­ter — half a litre 30 min­utes be­fore lunch re­duces meal con­sump­tion by an av­er­age of 40 calo­ries.

Eat in front of the mir­ror — or from a mir­rored plate to con­sciously ac­knowl­edge how much you are eat­ing and what types of food.

Don’t eat alone — eat­ing with friends and fam­ily en­cour­ages health­ier choices.

Sonic sea­son­ing — chang­ing the back­ground mu­sic can make food taste sweeter and saltier.

Gas­tro­physics is avail­able now pub­lished by Pen­guin.

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Ice numbs the palate and could cause over-eat­ing,

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