A Surprising New Reason To Stop Dreaming Of A "Perfect Body"

Photographed by Fernanda Silva.
There's no arguing the harmful effects of exaggerated advertising on the way we see ourselves. In fact, new research suggests that just being made aware of our appearance may mess with the way our bodies react to food, reports The Atlantic.

In the study, published in last month's issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers explored the link between the way we think about ourselves and our ability to recognize when we're hungry or full. In their first experiment, 107 participants either drank a high- or low-calorie milkshake in a room with or without a mirror that allowed them to see their faces and upper bodies.

Then, in another room, they were given a very boring task of evaluating videos. They were allowed to eat as many M&Ms as they wanted during that task. Results showed that when participants had consumed their shakes in front of a mirror, they were likely to ignore their satiety signals and eat more M&Ms later on. This effect was particularly strong when they'd gotten the higher-calorie shake.

The second experiment involved 59 female college students (average age was just over 20). Some were asked to evaluate ads that featured female models; some weren't. Then, all the women were given a mindless task and were allowed to eat as many crackers as they wanted during that time. Some of the women had their session before lunch, so they were hungry; the rest came after eating a filling lunch.  

The results here were similar to those of the first experiment: The participants who weren't hungry and were shown the ads featuring sexy lady models ate more crackers later on. Again, being primed to think about appearance — not even their own — was associated with participants ignoring their body's fullness signals.

As the study authors say, all of this suggests that "a preoccupation with how one looks undermines achieving a healthy eating pattern." Which means that being motivated by or constantly reminded of our appearance has a pretty crappy influence on our eating habits, even if we're doing our darndest to eat well. This suggests that a diet aimed at going down a size or two probably isn't the way to go. So, in addition to the fact that every body can be a "bikini body," this is just another reason to rethink our culture's focus on size — and fad diets. After all, there are already so many better reasons to get and stay healthy. 

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