Published on 31st July 2018


Being mindful of the effects that food has on health could improve portion control, according to a study from the University of Tübingen, Germany.1 

Researchers found that when participants were asked to focus on particular information while selecting lunch, portion size was affected. Adopting a mindset that focused on the health effects of food produced better outcomes than focusing on expected pleasure (pleasure mindset) or intention to stay full until dinner time (fullness mindset). 

The research follows a previous study which found that lean people could be encouraged to make healthier food choices by adopting a health-focused mindset.2 Using brain scans, it was shown that this approach could trigger activity in the pre-frontal cortex; a part of the brain linked to self-control and future meal planning. The current research, however, suggests that overweight or obese individuals may also benefit from a shift in mindset. 

In the current study, participants in all weight categories (normal weight to obese) chose smaller portions for lunch when directed to think about health, compared to those in a control group who were not given any mindset instructions. In contrast, larger portions were selected by participants who focused on staying full. For the pleasure mindset condition, participants who were obese selected larger portions than those who were normal weight, and this tendency was associated with a heightened response in a taste-processing region of the brain. Blunted brain responses in regions for reward and physiological regulation were observed in obese participants who focused on fullness.

Stephanie Kullmann, lead investigator on the project, said: “The rise in obesity since the 1950s has directly paralleled increasing portion sizes. We are finding that switching an individual’s mindset during pre-meal planning has the potential to improve portion control.” She also said that the influence of pre-meal mindset on food choices may contribute to the vicious cycle observed in obesity: “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.” 

The research findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, an international conference of experts on eating research.


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