How fast-food cues can lead you to overeat

Always caving in to fast food? Avoid the cues.
Always caving in to fast food? Avoid the cues.

You've probably been there – there is a commercial break during your favourite nightly TV series. You have just finished dinner, but you're desperately craving something sweet. An advertisement for an ice-cream from your favourite fast-food franchise comes on.

Onslaught of tempting aromas

Before you know it, you are either hopping into your car and speeding off to your nearest fast-food joint, or you are grabbing your phone and calling for a delivery service.

Before heading out to shop this holiday season, steel yourself for an onslaught of tempting aromas that might lure you into a fast-food restaurant.

Food-related cues, like the smell of burgers or eye-catching menu displays, stimulate brain activity. This tempts people to eat more, a new study finds.

In a similar vein, another earlier study found that individuals with obesity had a stronger response to words associated with high-calorie foods such as chocolate spread and chicken wings in multiple areas of the brain.

Dangers of food advertisements

University of Michigan researchers conducted lab experiments with 112 college students. The investigators found that food cues made people feel hungrier and led to the consumption of 220 more calories compared with non-cue environments.

The findings were published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science

"Food-related cues can make people want or crave food more, but don't have as much of an impact on their liking, or the pleasure they get from eating the food," said study lead author Michelle Joyner, a psychology graduate student.

The results show that people need to be aware that food cues can increase how much they eat, the researchers said.

"It is hard to avoid food cues in our current environment, but people can try some strategies to minimise their exposure by not going into restaurants and using technology to skip food advertisements in TV shows," Joyner said in a university news release.

A recent Michigan State University Extension article concludes that by recognizing food cues and making small changes to your food environment, you may have a greater success with weight loss, weight maintenance and the adoption of overall healthier behaviours.

So what can you do?

1. Skip the advertisements

Change the channel, get up and go to the bathroom, take a sip of water, do anything to rid yourself of the visual temptation of advertisements on TV.

family watching tv

2. Delete or hide your delivery apps

Food delivery apps and services have made it so much easier to get hold of unhealthy food. Prevent yourself from using these apps by taking them off your main phone screen or deleting them entirely.

woman with smartphone

3. Never go to the mall hungry

Christmas shopping means malls, and there is nothing more tempting than those yummy smells wafting from the food court. Make sure that you eat a nutritious, filling breakfast or snack before hitting the shops.

women shopping at mall

Image credits: iStock

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