Eat less by altering your memories

Mary MacVean / Los Angeles Times /

Published Mar 14, 2013 at 05:00AM

Dieters may want to forget episodes of falling off the wagon, but researchers say an attentive memory for what is eaten could help people eat less at their next meals.

So sitting at a movie with a bucket of popcorn holding perhaps a day’s worth of calories might be a bad idea for the present and the future, the research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests. In an analysis of 24 studies, the researchers found that while distractions can lead to increased eating, that distraction is even more influential on later eating.

The key is memory, said the researchers, who are from several British institutions. And the appeal could be that incorporating “attentive-eating principles” into people’s habits could help with weight loss and maintenance “without the need for conscious calorie counting.”

The current studies differed from other strategies in use, such as eating slowly and mindfulness training by focusing on studies that manipulated attention to food and memory, the researchers noted.

While the studies suggest the possibility of one approach to weight control, they mostly looked at adults whose body mass index measured in the healthy range, so additional work would be needed to discover the effect on people who are overweight.

Distractions can disrupt a person’s ability to notice the pleasure of the food going in, and that can lead to eating more than necessary. But that doesn’t explain what happened at subsequent meals — a more pronounced increase in intake, the researchers said.

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

“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.”