How a mirror can make unhealthy food less tasty


chocolate cake

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A quick search of the Internet will reveal a myriad of weight loss tips — and some of them pretty whacky. One of the stranger ideas out there is that of eating in front of a mirror — the basic idea being that you shame yourself into eating less by watching yourself and your intake while you chew. According a new study, published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, the notion might not be that hard to swallow after all.


Guilty pleasure

The researchers — led by Ata Jami of the University of Central Florida — say that, because people's food choices are often guided more by tastiness than nutritional value, promoting healthy eating practices and ultimately combating obesity is not always the easiest of tasks. Their research, the team says, shows that the presence of a mirror can reduce the perceived tastiness of unhealthy food and so reduce its consumption.

In a taste test study, each of 185 undergraduate students had a choice of either chocolate cake or fruit salad which they were then asked to evaluate the taste of either in a room with a mirror or with one with no reflections around. Those who selected the chocolate cake found it less tasty in the room with a mirror compared to that which had none. The presence of a mirror did not, however, change the taste of the fruit salad.


Healthy future

"A glance in the mirror tells people more than just about their physical appearance," Jami explains. "It enables them to view themselves objectively and helps them to judge themselves and their behaviors in a same way that they judge others." Mirrors, he says, can push people to compare and match their behaviors with social standards of correctness. Accordingly, when a person feels that they have transgressed society's standards, he or she does not want to look themselves in the eye while they do it because it enhances the discomfort of the failure. Psychologically, the researchers say, this discomfort lowers the perceived taste of the unhealthy food.

According to the study, this effect only occurs if the food is personally selected by the diner as he or she feels responsible for the food choice. Conversely, eating healthy food — like the fruit salad — does not cause any discomfort and, as a result, the mirror does not seem to change the taste. The team suggests that placing mirrors in dining rooms and other eating spaces so that diners can see themselves eat could be an effective way for individuals to pursue better dietary habits or restaurants (should they choose) to encourage healthier eating practices.