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Secret psychological prompts that could aid your weight loss

Dr Gary Mendoza, a leading nutritionist, lays out some techniques to help keep to your diet goals.
Keeping a food diary and an exercise diary are great ways to manage your weight. iStockphoto
Keeping a food diary and an exercise diary are great ways to manage your weight. iStockphoto

Eating from coloured plates, drinking before each meal and reducing the size of the dish you use are just some of the appetite manipulating methods, cooked up by university researchers helping dieters beat the bulge.

Now, new research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reiterates the need for people who want to trim their waistline to apply some brain power to the task, too.

An American team looking into the dieting methods employed by 123 overweight women found that keeping a weight loss diary proved to be a successful motivational aid - women who wrote down what they ate lost six pounds (2.7 kilograms) more than those who did not.

According to Dr Gary Mendoza, a leading nutritionist and expert on the role of psychology in dieting, it pays to use a number of psychological prompts to avoid falling off the weight loss wagon.

"A food diary is great - an exercise diary is even better," he says. Mendoza encourages clients to use a pedometer to measure their daily prescription of steps to help them burn calories. "But it only works if there's an element of accountability - I tell my clients to walk a set amount of steps a day and record it in their exercise diary. If they don't do it I ask them why and we work out ways of getting them to fit more exercise into their lives." Mendoza's Pocketfit Training programme has a reported 86 per cent success rate and includes a number of "mind over fatter" tips.

"Pinning the photo of yourself that you hate, at your biggest perhaps, to the fridge is one prompt that may stop you raiding it for a snack," adds Mendoza. "Making a pledge is another one, too. You can do this as an individual or a group." The idea is to pledge a substantial amount of money towards hitting your weight loss goal - if you don't do it, you donate the money to a charity. If you do, it's a reward for yourself.

However, Laura Holland, a nutrition and well-being consultant at the Dubai-based Beautiful You and a contributor to The National believes it's crucial to find positive association to encourage that "feel good" factor rather than trying to stay motivated through the fear of weight gain. "What we resist only persists, so it is vital that we focus on what we do want and positively associate this with whatever action we are choosing to take to nurture that feel good factor," she says.

Perhaps the best way to engage your mind in aiding your diet is to follow some of the new found subconscious psychological tactics. Researchers from the University of Mannheim in Germany report that participants in a study ate less food and drank less soft drinks from red plates and cups than they did from blue ones. The researchers believe that the colour red acts as a subtle "stop" signal that subconsciously cuts food and drink intake.

In a separate US study, at the Georgia Institute of Technology, scientists found that by self-serving food on a plate that contrasts the food in colour - say white rice on a blue plate - at a buffet, people would dish up 12 per cent less than they would when using a plate the same colour.

"Colour is energy, we are energy, and so it's quite logical that colours will affect how we feel and behave, including our appetite," says Holland. "Eating a variety of different foods at the same meal stimulates appetite - making it much easier to eat less."

A leading authority in the way our mind can influence our appetite, the professor Brian Wansink, the author of Mindless Eating, from Cornell University in the US has also highlighted how we're more likely to drink fewer calories if we use long, tall glasses at home - and more inclined to overfill short glasses.

"Smaller plates are certainly also helpful for portion control," adds Holland. "Visually it looks more satisfying to have a full small plate rather than a half full large plate - that 'emptiness' just reminds us of that potential 'emptiness' inside, on all levels."

And for those of us struggling to shun the crisps and biscuits, a bit of food feng shui around the kitchen may help trick the mind into healthier eating habits. In two studies carried out in the Massachusetts General Hospital cafeteria, in 2010 and 2012, researchers found that by rearranging fridges to put healthier foods at eye level made consumers more likely to purchase them.

Five tricks that can cut your calorie intake:

Make some cuts

Arizona University researchers who watched 300 students eat bagels discovered that those who had been given a bagel that had been cut into four ate fewer calories through the day than those who had been given a whole one.

Eat in good company

Male and female students were found to eat fewer calories when dining out with a member of the opposite sex. Researchers suggests that women try to eat more daintily around men, while men may feel less inclined to show off by eating more when no women are around.

Mind set your table

Sitting at a table to eat - as opposed to standing at a counter or even on the sofa in front of the TV - will reduce the amount of calories you consume. Research also shows that having a glass of water before each meal and removing serving dishes from the table can cut calorie consumption by 30 per cent.

Get your head down

Researchers from Columbia University in New York found that people were more inclined towards eating fast food after just four hours sleep when compared with their meal choices after nine hours of shut-eye.

Avoid distraction

Put down your iPad, turn off your mobile phone and stop sitting in front of the TV if you want to engage your mind and avoid overeating. A recent study from the UK found that people distracted by a computer game while eating consumed twice as much food as they thought they had.

Updated: July 30, 2012 04:00 AM



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