What if you forgot completely about everything you ate as soon as you were finished eating it? A (very small) study in people with amnesia found that they would simply eat another meal if it was served outside their memory window, even if it was shortly afterward. (Interestingly, they showed a preference for different foods than were previously served — their bodies remembered something about those meals, but they weren’t conscious of having eaten them.)

Researchers have also tried the reverse: they’ve asked people (with normal memory) to recall what they ate last before they ate again, and found a tendency to eat less after the recall. This is all part of a growing body of research that shows that how much we eat is influenced by almost everything except our bodies explicitly needing food (or our subjective desire for a particular dish).

The Good News

Detailed food tracking and calorie counting takes time and practice to do well. This research shows that you can start extra small to get pointed in the right direction. I always suggest beginning by keeping a simple list through the day. (“Latte. Donut. 2 hard-boiled eggs. Handful of almonds.” And so on.) One nice feature of this method is that you can ask yourself “Do I really want to put those Hershey Kisses on the list?” instead of automatically grabbing a couple as you pass the receptionist’s desk on the way in from lunch. This research offers a still easier way to get started with mindful eating: take a moment to ask yourself, “What did I eat last?” That may be enough to curb snacking — or encourage you to choose something healthy so you have a “win” to remember later.

Do you have a favorite trick for keeping your eating on track?


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