Losing weight is never easy, but new research shows that making simple, small changes in the way we interact with food could have a big impact on our health.
Scientists in the UK set out to establish the way in which eating behavior is influenced by both cognitive and environmental triggers. To do this, they recruited a small sample of 80 female students and split them into four groups—eating pasta labeled as a "snack," eating pasta labeled as a "meal," eating pasta standing up, and eating pasta sitting down. After this initial experiment, the participants were presented with typically unhealthy snack foods, such as M&Ms and cheese crackers.
It was found that the women who ate foods labeled as "snacks" and those who ate standing up consumed more than their counterparts, suggesting that the modern day grab-and-go attitude could be a contributing factor to the UK's current "obesity epidemic." The report reads:
"The results showed main effects of label and place with participants consuming significantly more sweet mass (specifically chocolate) at the taste test when the preload had been labeled a "snack" and more total mass and calories when the preload had been presented as a "snack"...The results also showed a combined effect of both label and place with those who had eaten the preload both labeled and presented as a "snack" consuming significantly more in terms of nearly all measures of food intake than those in the other conditions."
The research team has attributed the results to a combination of factors and believe that when we are more easily distracted and may not be conscious of consumption. They also argue that memories for snacks and meals may be encoded differently in our subconscious and that we are unable to recall what we have eaten as a "snack." Lead author professor Jane Odgen said:
"What we have found is that those who are consuming snacks are more likely to overeat as they may not realize or even remember what they have eaten. To overcome this we should call our food a meal and eat it as a meal, helping make us more aware of what we are eating so that we don't overeat later on."
Speaking to Newsweek, she added:
"Ideally the food industry should stop marketing high-calorie foods as snacks and employers should encourage workers to take lunch breaks…But until this time, as consumers, we should label our own food in our heads as meals and take time to sit down and eat it!"
According to Jo Marshall, author of Managing Anxiety with Mindfulness for Dummies, simply using the technique of being present during both cooking and eating is one of the quickest and easiest ways to develop and maintain a healthy relationship with food. Speaking to NetDoctor, she said:
"Mindfulness teaches you to be aware of your thoughts and your body and what's going around you. If you are practicing mindfulness when preparing food, you are more likely to be kind to yourself and put good nutritious food into your body, because you know it is good for you. Mindfulness can help us lose weight not only because we are aware of what we are putting in our body and the effect that it has but also the act of eating itself."
The study was undertaken at the University of Surrey and was published in the journal Apetite.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.