Top Ten Diet Tips Based on the Effects of Memory on Appetite

Caretakers have observed in patients suffering from episodic memory loss such as those with Alzheimer's disease an interesting phenomenon. Those who are unable to form new memories will often times eat a complete meal, feel hungry shortly afterwards, and then consume another entire complete meal as if they had not even eaten the first. Memory, it seems, has a real affect on satiety.

Additional studies have confirmed this link. They have shown that people are likely to eat more when they are distracted while eating (such as eating while watching television). Conversely, another study demonstrated that simply reminding people of how much they ate in one meal can cause them to eat less in a subsequent meal.

In one of these studies, titled Episodic Memory and Appetite Regulation in Humans [1], participants were given a bowl containing either a 10 oz or 17 oz serving of soup and asked to eat the entire portion. The clever part of the study was each bowl was rigged with a concealed tube that allowed the researchers to imperceptibly drain or refill the bowl as the participant was eating. This allowed the researchers to trick the participants into eating more or less than they thought they had eaten.

Half of the participants ate the actual amount they believed they had eaten. The other half either ate 10 oz thinking they had eaten 17 oz, or ate 17 oz while thinking they had only eaten 10 oz.

The participants were asked about their hunger level immediately after the meal. Predictably, those who ate more reported feeling more full. What was interesting is that two or three hours later, the story changed. When asked at a later time, the participants' reported level of satiety now aligned with the perceived amount of soup consumed. People reported feeling more full depending on how much soup they thought they had eaten, regardless of how much they had really eaten. These results suggest our memory of what we have eaten has more of an effect on our appetites than the physical feeling of being full.

This knowledge can prove very helpful if you are looking to shed a few pounds. Given that diet is typically thought to account for 75% of weight loss (25% is exercise) and hunger is one of the top reasons people give for quitting diets, any tools you can use to feel more full can make a difference.

Below are ten tips for losing weight based on our understanding of how memory affects appetite.

[1] Brunstrom JM, Burn JF, Sell NR, Collingwood JM, Rogers PJ, Wilkinson LL, et al. (2012) Episodic Memory and Appetite Regulation in Humans. PLoS ONE 7(12): e50707.
The Top Ten
1 Keep a food journal / count calories A calorie counter like MyFitnessPal is a tool for keeping track of the food you have eaten so you can stay within your calorie goals or mind your macros, but it can also double as an effective tool for forming memories. Just like taking notes by hand helps with recollection by forcing your brain to process new information in a variety of ways, recording your meals helps solidify them in your memory.

Good idea so you remember how much you ate. I will try it sometime and tell my mom and dad, who work out, to try it too.

2 Avoid eating while watching a screen Television, computer, phone, etc... all serve as a distraction that keeps you from being able to pay attention to the food you are eating and in turn inhibits your ability to accurately remember the amount of food you have eaten.
3 Avoid high-calorie drinks Watching out for high calorie gotchas like sodas and blended coffees is already good advice. When you're trying to stay under 2000 calories per day, the empty calories of a 32 oz cola or two (approx. 375-750 calories) or a large chocolate mocha (500-600 calories) definitely work against you.

This is all common sense, but also consider drinks such as fruit smoothies and meal replacement shakes. Commercially sold drinks of these varieties can contain anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand calories. Given a liquid drink seems much less like a solid meal, it's unlikely your memory of a drink is going to produce a the same feeling of satiety as a traditional meal, even if the calorie content is similar.
4 Don't snack from the bag Instead, take a serving of chips, crackers, popcorn, etc., replace the bag and then eat. Seeing the entire portion will make it easier to process how much you ate.
5 Prepare your own meals Seeing an ingredients list on the side of a package doesn't give as good a representation of what a meal contains as assembling the ingredients yourself. Being able to itemize the number eggs, and the amount of cheese, veggies, and meats you assembled into a omelette, as well as the time you spent working with the ingredients, will likely aid in imprinting the meal in your memory.
6 Take smaller bites Smaller bites will typically make the meal last longer and a longer meal will be more memorable.
7 Don't eat and go to sleep
8 Eat throughout the day

Another tip that is already standard dieting advice. In the context of this list, this tip is still relevant because of the recency effect on memory. The less time there is between meals, the easier it is to remember them accurately.

9 Use smaller dinnerware People like to measure things in meaningful units, even if those units aren't necessarily standard. We use a car length to measure distance despite cars being a variety of lengths. We use a bowling ball to measure weight when a heavy ball is twice as heavy as the lightest ball in the alley.

When eating, we think of things in terms of number of plates or number of glasses. You can use this to your advantage simply by reducing the size of your china. When you think back on a meal and remember eating a plate of spaghetti with a bowl of green salad, the amounts will be the same in your head and consequently how full you feel will be the same despite having eaten less.
10 Split meals at restaurants It's no secret that meals in American restaurants are huge. You know this going in and may have every intention of eating half and taking the rest home, but before you know it you're nearing the end of the plate and might as well finish.

Asking to split the meal with another person up front may get you a dirty look from a temperamental server, but you'll end up with a more reasonable portion, will likely feel sufficiently full, and will save some money you can use to compensate the server for the inconvenience.
The Contenders
11 Use spices liberally Things that stand out are more memorable. So don't be shy about adding some pepper. The burn will stick with you in more ways than one.
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