Trying to eat healthy? This mental trick could help, new research suggests

If you”re trying to eat better, a new study from Germany’s University of Tübingen suggests that one mental trick might help.

Researchers discovered that people who merely thought about eating healthy while preparing their meals were more likely to serve themselves smaller portions, a crucial factor in both losing and maintaining weight.

The research comes at a time when the CDC reports that nearly half of all Americans—49 percent—have tried to lose weight in the past year. Two out of three Americans are overweight or obese.

In the study, participants were divided into three groups: one that was told to focus on the health benefits of their food, another on the pleasure of food, and a third on staying full. The control group was not given any intent.

Participants in the group told to consider the health benefits of their food chose smaller portions than all of the other groups.

In other words, if you’re trying to eat better, it pays to think about your health goals when it comes time to meal prep. You’ll probably serve yourself smaller portions and save on unneeded calories.

According to the study, “Brain scans showed how this approach can trigger activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is linked to self-control and future meal planning.”

“The rise in obesity since the 1950s has directly paralleled increasing portion sizes,” Stephanie Kullmann, the lead researcher on the study, wrote in a statement. “We are finding that switching an individual’s mindset during pre-meal planning has the potential to improve portion control.”

Looking to get a handle on portion sizes for yourself? In addition to adopting a health-focused mindset, you can also use household items as handy references to choosing how much to eat: a deck of cards resembles a 3-ounce portion of protein, while a tennis ball is comparable to a cup of pasta.

Getting a head start on weight-loss by prepping nutritious meals to eat throughout the week. Our health and nutrition expert Joy Bauer has created a simple 30-item grocery list that will have you set with easy, healthy meals and snacks for a whole week!

Happy (and healthy) eating!

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