While I become more convinced with each peer-reviewed study I evaluate that the fundamentals of health and nutrition are very simple, nutritional science can be complicated and ever-changing. That’s because nutrition, weight management, and health have that one common multidimensional factor: human behavior. A recent study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research is a good reminder as to why the human aspect is the most important thing when studying nutrition.
One of the most pervasive ideas in behavioral science is the theory of objective self-awareness. This theory proposes that visualizing yourself—whether physically looking at yourself or doing so mentally—can improve decision-making and adherence to positive behavioral change. Decades of research have shown that when people are confronted with their own (visual or mental) image, they are less likely to judge others and even cheat on tests. But how might this behavioral phenomenon influence eating behaviors?
Researchers from the University of Utah aimed to examine how being forced to watch yourself eat may alter eating behavior. The study involved two separate tests. In the first test, participants were presented with two separate bars of chocolate, one labeled as “tasty” and the other as “healthy”. In reality, the bars of chocolate were the same thing. They were then left alone in the room and asked to choose one of the bars to eat. Half of the participants were placed in a basic room without windows, and the others were placed in a room with large mirrors on every wall. Of those who had chosen the “tasty” bar, participants who had to eat it in the room with mirrors reported less satisfaction with its taste than those in the normal room. Furthermore, the consumers of the “healthy” chocolate bar almost unanimously graded it as having good flavor.
In the other test, participants were again randomly assigned to a normal or mirrored room and asked if they would prefer a brownie or a piece of fruit for a snack. The researchers then randomly assigned the participants to receive a brownie or a piece of fruit, regardless of the participants listed preference. The participants in the mirrored room who had asked for and received a brownie actually reported less satisfaction with their snack than the participants in the normal room who had asked for a brownie and received fruit. Whether they had to watch themselves eat had more influence over their snack satisfaction than whether or not they received what they had asked for.
When it comes to food habits and preferences, it is clear that one of the most important factors is how we view it. We all eat foods knowing that some of them are not good for our health, but using visualizing techniques may help us minimize how often we do it, how much we consume, and how much we enjoy the experience.
Dr. Damian Rodriguez is the health and exercise scientist for doTERRA International, LLC. He holds a doctorate in health science, a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and countless professional certifications. He has spent most of his life researching nutrition, exercise, and the lifestyle behaviors associated with optimal health. Along with his passion for health, as someone who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is also involved in bringing awareness to autism spectrum disorders. There are varying opinions about many health and fitness topics. His opinions are his own and not necessarily that of doTERRA International, LLC. Consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to diet and exercise.