Researchers found that eating in front of a mirror and watching yourself wolf down unhealthy food such as cake and fries make food seem less appetizing. The practice can help people eat less and lose weight along the way.
Researchers at the University of Central Florida enrolled 185 undergrad students to eat either a piece of chocolate cake or a serving of fruit salad. The participants ate in two rooms, one without a mirror and one with a mirror.
Interestingly, the students who ate a slice of chocolate cake in a room with mirrors found the cake less tasty, compared to the students who ate the same food inside a room without a mirror. Oddly, all participants who ate the fruit salad in both rooms found no change in taste.
Lead researcher Ata Jami explained that glancing in the mirror gives people more than just a glimpse of their physical appearance. Looking at the mirror gives people the chance to see themselves with an objective view. The mirrors help people judge themselves, along with their behaviors, just as they would judge other people in weight discrimination.
The team found that mirrors can make people compare their own behaviors with what society thinks is the "social standard for correctness." If they see themselves failing to reach those standards, they tend not to look at the mirror as it enhances their feeling of discomfort or failure.
"You don't want to see yourself eating unhealthy products because that does not match with standards of healthy eating," said Jami.
Put A Mirror, Mirror On The Wall
The researchers concluded the presence of a mirror while eating unhealthy food can make people uncomfortable, rending the food less tasty and satisfying. Jami suggested the installation of mirrors in eating spaces to help people become more aware of what they eat and encourage them to make healthier food choices.
In a home setting, the installation of a mirror can perhaps help people grab a slice of fruit instead of wolfing down fattening leftovers or chips.
Don't Let Friends Pick That Brownie For You
There's a glitch however. Jami and his team conducted a related experiment and found that when someone picks the unhealthy option for someone else, the feeling of guilt that usually follows fails to creep up. For instance, when a student picked a brownie instead of a fruit salad and gave it to another student, the latter didn't feel guilty eating the unhealthy food item.
"If friends give it to you, it's guilt-free," said Jami.
The study will be published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research in the January issue.