There’s an article on the Huffington Post up right now about a dieting trick that could help you lose weight: keeping a mirror in front of you to watch yourself eat. Research indicates that, yes, this trick can actually help you lose weight, and I don’t doubt that it works. But I don’t like the message it sends to dieters, and I feel that it could be a problematic strategy down the line.
To determine whether the trick works, researchers at Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab did a taste test of 185 undergraduate students. They were asked to choose either fruit salad or chocolate cake. After they’d chosen, half the students were asked to eat in a room facing a mirror while the other half ate normally. Then they were asked about how their food tasted.
The students who ate cake in front of a mirror enjoyed their cake less than those who did not eat it in front of a mirror. The people who ate fruit thought it tasted about the same, regardless of the presence of mirrors. The study suggests that when you watch yourself eat unhealthy foods, you can judge yourself the way you would judge others—therefore, the cake becomes less delicious, so you eat less of it, and ostensibly you eat healthier foods.
While the trick allegedly works, I don’t particularly like what it gets people to tell themselves. I mean, watching nobody eat cake is sexy, but the inner dialogue that’s created by this method must be very unkind. People doing this might be telling themselves that they are disgusting or unworthy, that they should be ashamed, and I don’t believe that kind of thinking contributes to a healthy mind or body.
Would I want to watch myself eat cake? No, probably not. Do I think the method works? Probably. I just don’t like how it works. People who struggle with losing weight often also struggle with self-esteem issues related to their bodies, and I worry that the mirror method reinforces all the things they already tell themselves.
Negative reinforcement doesn’t always work, especially with dieters. If a person continually penalizes themselves, rather than improve, they are likely to continue with bad behaviors or even make them worse. Being yelled at for eating cookies makes most people want to eat more cookies.
My suggestion is to find a healthy diet with foods you like and maintain regular exercise. Losing weight is hard, and you need all the support you can get—you don’t need to be tearing yourself down all the time!