In the experiment, researchers from the University of Tübingen tasked participants – ranging from normal weight to obese – with adopting different mindsets when planning their meal to see how it affected portion control. One group was instructed to focus on the health effects of the food they were about to prepare, one was told to think about expected pleasure, one was told to consider their intention to stay full until dinner time, and one was given no directions. They were then instructed to choose a portion of food for lunch.
Their findings – presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behaviour – showed that participants in all weight categories chose smaller portions when their mind was on the health benefits of the meal. Brain scans demonstrated that this strategy can trigger activity in the prefrontal cortex, a region that’s associated with self-control.
In the group who concentrated on the taste of the food, obese participants selected bigger portions than normal-weight participants. Their brain scans correlated with a heightened response in the taste-processing region of the brain. They also found that those who focused on fullness took larger serves and the obese participants using this mindset showed dulled brain responses in the areas linked to reward and physiological regulation.
"This influence of pre-meal mindset on food choices may contribute to the vicious cycle we observe in obesity," said Stephanie Kullmann, lead investigator on the study. "Focusing on food for pleasure leads to bigger servings and increased brain responses to food reward, whilst the sensation of fullness is perceived as less satisfying."
So next time you're about to dish up dinner, wipe the drool away and think about how it will benefit your health.