How shifting your expectations about food can help you lose weight

The go-to advice for effective dieting is to choose food that is marketed as healthy and is low in calories, carbs and fat – but the way we think about such meals might actually cause us to gain weight

Health 29 December 2021

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Antonio Sortino

If you are craving a satisfying dish but trying to be careful about you weight, few things are more dispiriting than reading the “healthy” options on a food menu. Words like “light”, “wholesome”, “skinnylicious”, “sensible”, “mild” – the adjectives that often accompany low-fat, low-carb options – hardly prepare you for a pleasurable meal.

One obvious consequence is that it makes the foods seem less desirable, so you may be more tempted by indulgent choices: the “rich”, “flavourful”, “delicious” dishes. But the influence of these words can stretch far beyond our immediate decision-making.

The way we think about food can powerfully influence our satiety long after we have finished eating, and thanks to the mind-body connection, it can even shape our hormonal responses and the meal’s passage through the gut. As a result, our expectations around food can determine whether we will experience greater hunger pangs afterwards and find it harder to resist snacking later in the day. And this is all down to the sense of deprivation created by the way the food was described, irrespective of the number of calories actually consumed.

No wonder dieting is often so agonising: our culture has led us to associate healthy eating with greater hunger, and that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fortunately, as I describe in my book The Expectation Effect, there are many ways to change our food mindsets, and they all centre on the idea that pleasure is an essential ingredient for any weight-loss regime. As paradoxical as it may seem, cultivating an indulgent attitude to food may be the best way to control your waistline.

It was a man called Henry Molaison …

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