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Food Diary for Weight Loss

March 16, 2009 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

I’m really excited about today’s topic because I have something that’s both fascinating and practical to share. The research in today’s blog provides a great example of a clinician cleverly thinking outside of the scientific box.

What Did You Have for Lunch?

If you’re a regular reader of HealthyFellow.com, you know that I’m interested in natural ways to curb excessive appetite. The epidemic of obesity is wreaking havoc in modern society. It’s become such a problem that powerful medications and surgeries are now being used to address it. In fact, weight loss surgery is quickly becoming one of the fasting growing surgical procedures.

Reasons for Snacking

This may come as a surprise, but I’m not explicitly opposed to either of these interventions. The negative impact of being overweight and all of its associated complications is often more dangerous than the risks commonly found in surgical interventions performed by skilled doctors and properly administered medications. Having said that, I’d much prefer to utilize every natural option first and turn to more radical solutions as a last resort.

Dr. Suzanne Higgs, a psychologist at the University of Birmingham, recently published a unique mind-body study in the journal Psychology and Behavior. The observations presented in her work may very well help millions of people who struggle with the hunger that leads to snacking and overeating.

The aim of the study was to determine whether actively recalling previous meals would have any effect on the tendency to snack and the quantity of food eaten during a snack. Here’s how Dr. Higgs set up this experiment:

  • A group of female university students were all given identical prescribed lunches.
  • At the 1 hour and 3 hour post-meal marks, half the women were asked to write down a detailed description of what they ate for lunch. The other half were asked to describe how they got to school that day.
  • After providing the descriptions, the ladies participated in a “biscuit taste test”. They had no idea that their eating patterns were being analyzed at that time.

The results of this covert experiment were quite revealing. Dr. Higgs summarized what she saw in this manner, “The women who had been asked to recall their lunches and who took the taste test after three hours showed significantly reduced appetites compared to those who had detailed their journeys. This may be because after just one hour, the memory of eating lunch was still vivid enough to affect all the women’s appetites.”

In total, three experiments were conducted as part of this overall study. In one of the trials, similar results were found in a group of male participants. The male study utilized popcorn as a snack. These results indicate that the type and palatability of the snack and the gender of those being tested may not be relevant.

Food DiaryIt’s important to note that specifically remembering what you ate is not the same as just generally thinking about food. The latter behavior may in fact stimulate appetite. On the other hand, prompting your brain’s learning and memory center in the hippocampus may do the exact opposite. For instance, it’s known that people with damage to their hippocampus will often eat several of the same meals (instead of just one) because they don’t recall having eaten the prior meal.

More support for this current research can be found in a 2008 study that showed that keeping a daily food diary led to double the amount of weight loss. Those that kept the most specific records of their food choices appeared to benefit the most.

I know that I sometimes have the urge to snack. It often happens for me late at night. My brain knows that I shouldn’t be hungry, but I still have that nagging sensation. I plan to use the information from Dr. Higgs to help me better manage my own cravings. If you have similar issues, I hope you’ll consider doing the same.

Be well!

JP

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