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More PsychNotes: Mindfulness and Relaxation Methods

April 9, 2015       
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Mindful Attention to Unhealthy Foods Improves Food Choices
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

piece of chocolate
Common sense and mindfulness are often contrary to one another. For instance, if asked “Do you think if you looked at pictures of unhealthy foods for 10 minutes prior to lunch you would be more likely or less likely to choose salad for lunch?” people are likely to believe they would be less inclined to eat a healthy lunch. And they would be accurate if they just looked at the pictures. However, this belief is mistaken if they mindfully focused on the pictures.

A study by Papies and colleagues (2015) compared two groups of subjects on their lunch choices after they had been presented with pictures of unhealthy snack foods. The control group was asked to look at the pictures in a relaxed manner. The experimental group was instructed on giving mindful attention to the pictures. Afterward, they compared the number of calories they ate for lunch and whether they chose a salad or unhealthy snack foods. The outcome showed that those who mindfully focused on the pictures were more likely to eat a salad and to forgo the snacks than the control group.

How can this research be applied to your life?
Mindfully focusing on your food choices is likely to lead to healthier choices. Mindful attention means to fully observe the food. What is it? How would you eat it? What does it feel like? What does it taste like? How will it feel to eat it? Do you like it? Dislike it? What other thoughts do you have about the food?

A good example of this is included in the mindfulness exercises at ExcelAtLife.com: Eating a Piece of Chocolate.

Papies, E.K., Pronk, T.M., Keesman, M. and Barsalou, L.W. (2015). The Benefits of Simply Observing: Mindful Attention Modulates the Link Between Motivation and Behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108, 148 –170. DOI:10.1037/a0038032


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