3 Surprising Mental Tricks to Help You Eat Less and Exercise More

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So you’ve figured out an exercise program that works for you. At this point, you know so much about healthy eating that you feel like you could offer nutrition coaching yourself. But no matter how knowledgeable you are, sometimes it’s still hard to follow through on what you know you should be doing to make the healthy choice.

These scientifically backed tricks are just what you need to eat less and exercise more.

1. Actively recall memories of exercise.

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire found that using the simple mental trick of thinking about a time in the past when you’ve exercised can motivate people to exercise­ in the future—and it doesn’t even matter if the memory was positive or negative.

One group of research participants was asked to describe a positive memory of exercise, another group was asked about a negative memory and a third, control group was given no instruction at all. Those who recalled a positive memory were the most likely to increase their exercise level. But even those who recalled a negative memory were more motivated to exercise than the control group.

What’s really amazing about this simple trick is that the research participants weren’t even asked to use the memory in their daily lives as a motivation. They just answered one survey question about it and that was enough to increase the amount of exercise they were getting.

So imagine the results you might get if you actively decide to spend a few minutes replaying your previous workout in your mind each night before you go to bed. When you’re done, commit to the workout you’ll do tomorrow.

2. Look at pictures of food.

A recent study found that looking at lots of pictures of food makes it less desirable to eat. While looking at a few photos might whet your appetite, the more you look at food photos the less pleasure you’ll get from eating those foods. And that means you are likely to eat less when you actually sit down to eat.

The researchers describe this effect as something they call sensory boredom. Once you’ve looked at enough photos, you feel as if you have already had the experience. That removes the visual excitement of eating. As a result, you get bored more quickly with your food and move on to something else.

My suggestion is that you use this mental trick if you’re finding it hard to resist a particular type of food. Are salty snacks your weakness? Maybe you’re trying to cut back on cookies and chocolate, which are loaded with sugar? Check out Pinterest or Instagram for some great examples of your latest craving and start viewing instead of eating!

3. Have fun!

Have you ever noticed that the more you exercise the more you seem to eat? A recent study investigated this phenomenon and found that when they asked participants to walk for a half hour before they were given lunch the amount participants ate was dependent on how the physical activity had been described to them.

Half of the women were told that they were doing exercise and that they should monitor their exertion, while the other half were told to just have fun and enjoy themselves. The “having fun” group was happier and less tired afterward. They also made better food choices and ate less.

The researchers concluded that framing physical activity as exercise triggers people to search for a reward, like eating more. So stop exercising and find a physical activity that lets you have some fun! Always wanted to learn to salsa? Check out some classes at your local dance studio. Does it look fun to kick some butt in a boxing gym? Go for it. You’ll eat less and you’ll be more likely to keep doing it.