The study, led by Patrick O’Neil of the University of South Carolina and paid for by Weight Watchers, involved over 100 participants aged 25-65 with a BMI of 30+ (considered to be medically obese).
Prof O’Neil and his team discovered that people who found it difficult to lose weight all shared similar attitudes to food. They:
- thought about food when they were not physically hungry
- had a powerful urge to eat food when they smelt or saw it
- felt an intense anticipation just before they were about to taste a favourite food.
These people are experiencing something called hedonic hunger, which is hunger triggered by outside queues such as the smell of bread baking, or images of delicious looking cakes on TV.
Prof O’Neil said: “Considering that decreases in hedonic hunger were associated with an improvement in reported weight control behavior [sic] usage as well as with better weight loss, strategies for controlling the type and quantity of food available in the home environment may be particularly important for individuals who report high susceptibility to the food environment.”
When we have cakes, biscuits and other unhealthy treats lying about the home or office, it can become extremely hard to resist them.
One clear key to weight-loss then, is to avoid stocking cupboards with unhealthy snacks like crisps, chocolate and biscuits. Many of us fall into bad habits in the supermarket, buying food simply because it looks nice and we fancy it at the time. However, if that food hadn’t been available, would we still want it? Would the idea of the food even have occurred to us in the first place?
The research team then issued the participants with another questionnaire. This time they found that people who lost more weight were more likely to:
- leave food on their plate
- keep fresh vegetables around to snack on
- refuse food when offered
- record what they ate in a food diary.
The results of the study show that decreases in hedonic hunger leads to greater weight loss, suggesting that by changing environmental cues, obese and overweight people could potentially change their eating habits.
Taking this study into account, it may be helpful to a) keep unhealthy food out of sight (even if you know a colleague has bought chocolates for everyone, simply try not to look at them as you walk past) and b) keep track of what you eat – don’t graze and always remain mindful of what you put in your mouth.
For more information on healthy eating and how consulting a nutritionist could help you lose weight, please visit our Weight Management page.