How To Stop Overeating: A Small, Sweet Treat Could Stop You Reaching For Food Later, Study Suggests

Nibbling on a square of chocolate earlier in the day could stop you overeating later on, according to a new health study.

Scientists discovered that eating sweet foods triggers episodic memory in the brain.

This makes you remember that you ate something sweet earlier in the day (because it was great and you really enjoyed it) and helps to reduce the likelihood of overeating later on.

Marise Parent, co-author of the study and professor at the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State University, said: "We think that episodic memory can be used to control eating behaviour.

"We make decisions like 'I probably won't eat now. I had a big breakfast'. We make decisions based on our memory of what and when we ate."

The research, which was carried out on rats, shows neurons in the dorsal hippocampus - part of the brain that is critical for episodic memory - are activated by consuming sweet foods.

Episodic memory is the memory of autobiographical events experienced at a particular time and place.

When rats were fed a meal consisting of a sweetened solution it increased synaptic plasticity - a process necessary for making memories- in their brains.

Marise Parent said it is important for scientists to consider how the brain controls meal onset and frequency, in order to understand energy regulation and the causes of obesity.

The findings were published online in the journal Hippocampus.

The latest report also gives details of previous studies where memory function was found to be linked to food consumption.

A London-based study showed a positive correlation between forming memories of meals and maintaining a healthy diet. Those whose mealtimes were disrupted by television (or another activity) were likely to consume more food.

Similarly, a separate study showed that if people with amnesia had already eaten and were given more food, they were likely to consume more as they had no memory of what they'd previously eaten.

Nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed says the research is interesting but it's too early to draw any firm conclusions from it.

"It’s also important to remember that there are many reasons why we choose to eat – not just the memory of what we ate earlier," she says.

For those who are concerned about overeating, she suggests reducing portion sizes and practising mindful eating.

"A gradual reduction in portion sizes is certainly one of the main ways to reduce consumption of food," she explains.

"Additionally using smaller plates to eat food from has been shown in research, as well as in my own clinics, to be an effective way of encouraging people to eat less and still feel satisfied following a meal."

"Mindful eating can also help", she says. "Be aware of what you’re eating, take time out for meals and avoid distractions such as watching television or eating on the move.

"Research shows that distractions such as watching TV whilst eating can lead to reduced awareness of how much we’re eating and overconsumption. It’s likely that we don’t respond to our body’s signs of fullness when we are distracted and so eat more than we really need."

She continues: "I would also recommend having a structure around mealtimes and that people attempt to eat at fairly regular times and avoid grazing, especially on high fat, high sugar foods, in-between mealtimes."

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