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Feeling Bad About Your Body Might Make You Eat More

Thinking bad thoughts about your butt may actually make you eat more.

Bummer, am I right? You’ve probably been thinking that if you give yourself a hard enough time about your size and shape that you’ll get yourself on the diet bandwagon and downsize those portions, but that may not be true.

According to some recent research from the Netherlands, published in the January 2015 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, focusing on what you look like might make it harder to tell when you’re full.

Evelien van de Veer, the paper’s lead author, and her team, had participants do two different experiments. In the first, participants were led to believe they were taking part in a milkshake taste test (um, sign me up, please). They split up the participants into two groups, giving everyone a milkshake (half the milkshakes were high calorie, half were low calorie, which is something I did not know existed), though participants didn’t know which one they were getting.

Here’s how the two groups differed: one group had to drink their milkshake in front of a mirror, the other didn’t.

15 minutes later each participant was sent into a room to watch a movie on a computer, and a bowl of M&Ms was right there, next to the computer, tempting them.

On the edge of your seat? Here’s what happened: Those who had the high calorie milkshake and had the mirror in front them ate more of those little chocolate devils than those who drank the same milkshake while not looking in the mirror.

I’ll spare you all the details, but something similar happened in the second experiment; basically women in the second group ate more when they were exposed to pictures of thin models. The researchers think that it’s possible that the participants eat more because they’re distracted by worrying about how others perceive their body (something called self-objectification), because past studies have shown that being in this condition makes people less likely to be able to focus on cognitive tasks, and research suggests distracted people are also less likely to be able to notice their fullness signals.

So what does all of this mean for you? Well, it means that it’s possible that the more time you spend worrying about your weight and body, the harder it is to actually lose weight. So, what should you do? Here are three ideas:

  1. Remember this article. Remember how I told you about that study where it appears that when you’re worried about your body, you lose touch with your hunger signals, and actually eat more.
  2. Come up with a mantra for feeling better about your body. I know, it might sound a little out there, but hear me out: If you can come up with something calming that helps you feel better about your body, it may actually allow you to eat less. Which is what you’re maybe going for. So, try something like “I am doing my best” or “I am grateful that I have a body,” and wait to eat until you’re feeling better.
  3. Focus on something else before you eat. If you know you’re feeling bad about your arm flab or chubby feet, it’s not the best time to sit down for dinner. Instead, focus on another task until you are no longer so worried about your waistline.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.