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Think ‘thinspiration’ helps you diet? Think again

There’s a trend on Pinterest called “thinspiration” which is literally just people looking at pictures of skinny people in order to motivate themselves to lose weight. It’s actually become a pretty common practice lately, but its effects on the body are not looking so good.

Recently, a study came out in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology that suggests any appearance stimuli — whether it be magazine models, or just yourself in a mirror — may in fact cause you to eat more. The two-part study was conducted in the Netherlands, and consists of a pretty involved set of experiments.

In it, 107 people were served either a high- or low-calorie milkshake (this part at least sounds fun). Half the participants were told to drink their milkshake in front of a mirror. After they finished it, they were each given a bowl of M&Ms which they ate while watching videos without the inhibiting presence of a mirror. Strangely enough the people who previously drank the high-calorie milkshakes in front of a mirror ate more M&Ms than those who drank the low-calorie milkshakes. Interesting since you would assume those who drank the higher calorie shake would have less of an appetite after the fact.

Now this part will really throw you. The same high-calorie milkshake drinkers who drank in front of mirrors also ate more M&Ms than those who drank the exact same beverage without a mirror. So. Weird.

The second part delves a little deeper into this whole thinspiration trend. Thirty participants were asked to eat lunch before arriving and 29 were told to arrive on an empty stomach. Some people in each group were shown an ad featuring thin, attractive models, and the others were shown the same ads without the models. After this, everyone was given crackers and told to help themselves. The people who hadn’t eaten beforehand snacked regardless of whether they had seen the ads, shocker. But here’s the kooky part: Among the people who’d eaten lunch beforehand, those who looked at the ads featuring models ate about 46 percent more crackers than those who looked at ads without models — regardless of the fact that this entire group had already eaten. Crazy, right?

However, the study proved useful because scientists now think they have a better idea as to why this happens. Regardless of whether you’re looking at pictures of models, your friends or even yourself in a mirror, focusing on outward appearances can be deeply distracting. That focus messes with the messages your stomach sends to your brain to signify you’re full, and makes it more difficult to turn down food, regardless of whether or not you’re hungry. Whelp, there goes my reading a magazine while eating lunch habit!

According to lead author Evelien van de Veer, “it seems that a focus on appearance is more detrimental to sensing physiological cues than general distraction [i.e., looking at an ad without a model].” Obviously, this is even more troubling to people who are trying to lose weight, because they’re already paying more attention to appearances, both their own and the ones for which they’re striving.

So I suppose the message here is if you’re trying to lose weight, try not to get caught up in the physical image of yourself and what you want to change about it. Moreover, obsessing about a goal shape and size can not only add stress to your life (which we all know can cause weight gain), but according to this study, can actually work against your weight loss efforts. So put all those models out of your head — we all know they’re not real people anyway!

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