Eating healthily could be as simple as ditching straws and iced water, or changing the colour of your crockery, according to a psychologist at Oxford University.
Professor Charles Spence believes it is possible to feel satisfied while consuming fewer calories with a few brain hacks which trick the mind into healthy habits.
Prof Spence, who helps Heston Blumenthal create his multisensory dining experiences, claims that enjoyment of food is largely emotional.
He suggests ramping up the aroma and texture of a meal so the brain can easily tell when it has had enough to eat. Drinking through a straw suppresses much of the smell of a drink, which can lead to overconsumption. Likewise drinking iced-water with a meal numbs the palate and can lead to eating too much.
“The more food sensations you can muster, the better,” said Prof Spence. “Stronger aroma, more texture all helps your brain decide when it’s had enough. You should never use a straw to drink. It eliminates all the orthonasal olfactory cues that are normally such a large part of the enjoyment.
“Be sure to inhale the aroma of your food frequently, after all, this is where the majority of the pleasure resides. Whatever you do don’t drink iced water with your meals. It numbs the taste buds, plain and simple.
“Some researchers have even gone so far as to suggest that the North American preference for more highly sweetened foods may, in part, be linked to all the iced water they drink at mealtimes.”
In his new book Gastrophysics, Prof Spence also encourages people to eat from smaller – and if possible red – plates. Research has shown that eating from a plate that is twice the usual size can make people inadvertently eat 40 per cent more food. The colour red triggers avoidance in the brain and makes diners feel less hungry.
Eating from a heavy bowl in the lap, rather than on the table, also tricks the brain into eating far less food, because the weight fools the mind into thinking there is more in the dish than is actually there.
Swapping cutlery for chopsticks also helps slow down eating so the brain can catch up with the stomach, a trick which can also be achieved by eating with the non-dominant hand.
“Try to eat slowly and mindfully, and yes that means turning the TV off,” he added.
“Eating with the TV on is one of the worst things you can do in terms of increased consumption. Finding that people eat 15 per cent more food with the telly on as compared to when it is off is not unusual. The danger is we simply fail to pay attention to food-related stimulation.
The next time you find yourself eating in front of the TV or computer think carefully about what you are doing. Mindful eating and drinking is important in terms of increased enjoyment and quite possible increased satiety too.
Other tips include:
Hide food – it really is a case of out of sight out of mind. Anything you can do to make food difficult to get will help cut calories.
Split up the portions – cut a pizza or cake into six pieces rather than four
Drink more water – half a litre 30 minutes before lunch reduces meal consumption by an average of 40 calories
Eat in front of the mirror – or from a mirrored plate to consciously acknowledge how much you are eating and what types of food
Don’t eat alone – eating with friends and family encourages healthier choices
Sonic seasoning – changing the background music can make food taste sweeter and saltier
Gastrophysics is available now published by Penguin.