44% of college women and 27% of college men around the world are dieting to lose weight, according to the American College Health Association. In a world where body image is everything, it’s hard not to envision a “perfect body.” Sites from Pinterest to Tumblr are full of pictures of very fit and very skinny girls — thus the popularity of “thinspo” and “fitspo.”
While you may think that dreaming about having a “perfect body” may help motivate you to lose weight, a recent study published by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology and reported on by The Atlantic shows that the opposite is true — thinking about that six-pack or that thigh gap may actually make you eat more.
In one experiment, female subjects were split into two groups: hungry (they came before lunch) and full (they came after lunch). In both groups, half the subjects looked at ads of thin models and half didn’t. Then they did a cracker taste test, then a 15-minute “filler” task to take their minds off the taste test. The crackers were then left on the table and the subjects were told to help themselves if they wanted to.
The results? Subjects in the “hungry” group ate the same amount of crackers no matter if they saw the models or not. Subjects in the “full” group, however, ate more crackers if they saw the models before the taste test.
This makes sense if you’ve heard of the “mindless margin” (a term from Mindless Eating by Dr. Brian Wansink). This book advocates a lifestyle change, not a diet. The mindless margin says that you can feel when you’re very full or very hungry, but you don’t feel 100 calories. These 100 calories you overeat per day, however, leads to a 10 pound weight gain per year.
How to combat this? Not by dieting, but by living healthier through simple daily changes. For example, choosing to take the stairs every day instead of the elevator, or by eating more veggies in place of rice. It’s not about counting calories, but about making your life as a whole healthier. Those who’ve been on a diet know that they don’t really work. What’s even worse, they can negatively impact your body and can even lead to eating disorders.
Bottom line is, for a healthy body and a healthy mind, focus on what makes you look and feel the best, and don’t worry about the rest.
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