In fact, although the brain makes up only 2 percent of total body weight, it demands 20 percent of our resting metabolic rate (RMR)—the total amount of calories our bodies need just to survive. While diet experts will tell you to eat less and exercise more in order to lose weight (and they’re right), they sometimes miss a key component of the equation: weight loss starts in your brain. Change the way you think, and you can control your cravings, your metabolism, your digestion and your physique. So forget the juice cleanse and don’t beat yourself up for missing that grueling workout; lose your gut with these 7 science-backed tricks to think yourself thin.
Fantasize About Failing
Imagine your future: you’ve dieted for the past 20 years, and you’re fatter than ever. Your health is in shambles and you’re hopeless to resist food temptation. It’s that kind of “negative fantasizing” that researchers say paradoxically provides powerful motivation for weight loss. A study in the journal Cognitive Therapy & Research found obese women on a weight-loss journey who had the most positive fantasies—showing off their new, hot bodies to friends a year later—lost 24 pounds fewer than those with the most negative thoughts. Researchers say negative fantasies about weight loss mentally prepare dieters for temptation and hardship. While it’s great to visualize the future benefits of weight loss, think about the realistic obstacles that stand in your way … and go crush them!
Scrapbook Your Food Memories
You may want to forget the late-night Doritos Locos Tacos you scarfed down in the car, but holding onto that memory may help you eat less at breakfast. And lunch, and dinner. An analysis on a number of “attentive eating” studies printed in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that if people recall their last meal as being filling and satisfying, they tend to eat less during their next meal. Researchers found techniques like writing down or drawing meals, and even keeping food wrappers and receipts to be particularly beneficial.
Make Any Workout More Effective
Can you talk yourself to a better workout? A study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that cyclists who systematically verbalized positive affirmations (either silently or aloud) were able to pedal for much longer—and also said it felt easier—than their counterparts who skipped the consistent pep-talk. Researchers say the data suggests motivational self-talk can dramatically improve endurance performance; and, on a deeper level, a horrible workout may really be in your head!
Have a Dreamy Appetizer
It’s OK to dream about your favorite “cheat” foods while dieting. In fact, a recent study suggests fantasizing about eating an entire packet of your favorite candies before you indulge may cause you to eat fewer of them. For the study, researchers asked participants to imagine eating 3 or 30 M&Ms, and then invited them to eat some of the candies as a taste test. Incredibly, those who imagined eating the most M&Ms (30) actually ate the least. Researchers say the findings show—contrary to popular belief—that imagining the entire process of eating a pleasure food actually reduces your appetite for it.
See Yourself as Active
Folding laundry, doing dishes, grocery-shopping: you may not think of your daily chores as grueling exercise, but changing your perception about the physical demands of day-to-day living may help you slim down. In a study published in Association for Psychological Science, Harvard researchers surveyed hotel maids on their activity levels. When one group of overweight maids was told they exceeded the Surgeon General's guidelines for fitness, they started losing weight with no change to their diet or activity level. In fact, after a month, the average house maid had dropped 2 pounds, while her systolic blood pressure had dropped by 10 points. Study authors attribute the results to the positive impact of self awareness and engagement.
Consider Everything an Indulgence
Forget what’s inside the 100-calorie pack, new research suggests it’s the food label itself that may be making you fat. A study in the journal Health Psychology looked at the metabolic effects of milkshake marketing on levels of ghrelin—the “I’m hungry!” hormone that, for survival purposes, slows down metabolism in case you don’t find food. For the study, researchers made one batch of a milkshake recipe and presented it two different ways: half the batch went into bottles labeled as a 140-calorie fat-free drink called Sensishake, and the other half was marketed as Indulgence—an incredibly rich, 620-calorie treat. In truth, the shakes had 300 calories each. Both before and after study participants drank their milkshakes, nurses measured their levels of ghrelin. The results were shocking: on average, ghrelin levels dropped three times more when people believed they were drinking high-cal Indulgence. Study authors say the data suggests a slowing down of the metabolism when we eat something we believe to be low in calories, and a speeding up when we believe we’re indulging—regardless of how fattening the product actually is. It’s mind, or metabolism, over milkshake.
Flex Your Mental Muscles
Simply imagining an intense workout can significantly increase muscle strength, according to research published in the journal Neuropsychologia. For the study, 10 volunteers completed a “mental workout” of imaginary heavy bicep curls for 15 minutes, five times a week. The result? An average strength increase of 13.5 percent! And the strength gain lasted for three months after they stopped the brain workout—a result researchers attributed to a strengthened mind-muscle connection.
A similar “mind over muscle” study published in the North American Journal of Psychology found mental training to be hugely beneficial among male university athletes, including football, basketball and rugby players. Athletes assigned to perform mental training of their hip flexor muscles experienced strength increases of 24 percent, just a few pounds shy of the 28 percent strength gain experienced by those athletes who physically trained. And a 2011 study conducted by researchers at Institute of Sport Science in Germany concluded that high-intensity strength training sessions can be partly replaced by imagined isometric contractions without any considerable reduction of strength gains.
Don’t stop dreaming about that six-pack, kids!