Memories of Meals May Help You Lose Weight

Conspicuous Consumption | Photo: carbonnyc/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Quick: Think about everything that you ate yesterday.

No, not just big meals like dinner and lunch, although those are definitely part of the equation. But think also about the sides that went with those meals. And the various dressings that went on your greens. And the snacks in between. And maybe the various beverages, alcoholic or not, that washed them down. Oh, and don't forget that lingering french fry from your co-worker's fast food meal you snuck while they weren't looking. Or that piece of birthday cake from a party you happened to stumble into. And definitely not that nightcap before you put yourself to bed.

The point is, we consume a whole lot throughout any 24-hour period that we almost immediately forget. There's so much going on during our feeding times -- distractions like conversations, reading, watching TV, really anything at all -- that we tend to forget about what we're actually consuming. (How many times have you been watching a movie with a box of popcorn in your lap when you reach down and are shocked to learn there's none left?) And by doing so, by forgetting about what we've eaten, we're actually packing pounds onto ourselves.

At least, that's one of the takeaways from new "food memory"-based research that's making the rounds. Now, this kind of news is nothing we already don't know. "Attentive eating" is a concept that's been thoroughly studied in the weight loss world for years. Eating slowly and being aware of what, exactly, you're consuming is just a fancier and fuller version of calorie-counting. But where things get interesting, and new science is being introduced, is how the studies have shown that a distraction during one meal (let's say lunch) can actually affect how much you eat during your next one (dinner):

The research performed by "several British institutions" found that a person would increase their intake if disruptions affected a person's ability to enjoy the previous meal. More simply put, if you're eating a sandwich for lunch and watching a movie, you're more likely to devour more during dinner than if you would have eaten that sandwich with just your thoughts.

Weird stuff. But what's even more outrageous is the other dropped shoe that was part of this study:

They found that enhancing memory of food consumed reduced later intake.

The bold is mine. As in, by triggering enjoyment over previous meals, it may get you to actually eat less next time around. And the researchers really don't know why this is:

"However, it is not clear what aspects of memory are important," the researchers wrote. "Vividness of memory imagery, memory for food eaten, and memory of calories consumed were all associated with changes to food intake."

Which isn't to say that this finding is going to pave the way for some kind of weird brain manipulation to make us remember past meals as being more excellent than they really were. ("Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Stomach," anyone?) The methods of food memory triggering they discuss are more along the lines of "cueing," keeping food wrappers lying around to help you remember the joy you got from whatever the wrapper was holding. Which, while not nearly as sexy as someone opening up your brain and inserting some kind of Borg-like technology in to change your memories, is probably a whole lot safer.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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