Looking in the Mirror While Eating May Wreck Your Diet, Says Unhelpful Study

woman looking in mirror stressedFrom scales to measuring cups to mirrors, there are certain everyday household items that will forever be considered useful for weight loss. But new research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology shows that our own reflections -- which are supposed to motivate us to hit the gym or slim down our snacking -- may actually not be as helpful as we thought.  

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The study -- which required that subjects sip milkshakes in front of mirrors for some twisted, asinine reason! -- found that any stimuli (your reflection or images of gorgeous models, for instance) that makes you think about your appearance is a distraction that throw off physiological cues that signal fullness.

In other words, if you're mentally hung up on, "I really need to lose 10 pounds," "Why can't I look like Behati Prinsloo?" etc., you probably won't be as mindful about the amount of guac and chips you just inhaled ... And the distraction is even worse than, say, binge-watching House of Cards, because it's emotionally-driven.

More from The Stir: How I Stopped Getting Weighed Down by the Scale

Not exactly rocket science! If you're a woman who's subject to the totally unrealistic standards of beauty in this country, you know full well what worrying about your appearance, and possibly your weight, feels like, and you don't need researchers to tell you that worrying is not only bad -- but may potentially make you fatter. Ugh.

Not that I've EVER been asked to drink a milkshake in front of mirror like the subjects of this study, but I'm pretty sure seeing how I look in a mirror has done a number on my hunger cues. Yep, even when I've been seated at a restaurant right in front of or next to a big mirror. (Why do restaurants even HAVE mirrors? Who in their right mind wants to watch themselves chow down?)

For the record, I've always moved to the other side of the table, or to a different table completely.

That's because, like just about any living, breathing human, seeing myself in the mirror can be a distraction of nails-on-the-chalkboard caliber. Because I often feel like that reflection doesn't accurately depict my hard work at the gym or sticking to a healthy diet, it also has the power to frustrate me and stress me out. And have I wasted way too much time and energy being hung up on all of that? Obviously.

I'm not alone.

I'll never forget a bittersweetly hilarious bit comedian Margaret Cho did in one of her stand-up shows, in which she explains having eating disorders as a kid and then had an epiphany:

One day I just said, "Hey, what if this is it? What if this is just what I look like and nothing I do changes that? So how much time would I save if I stopped taking that extra second every time I look in the mirror to call myself a big fat f***? How much time would I save if I just let myself walk by a plate-glass window without sucking in my gut and throwing back my shoulders? How much time would I save?" And it turns out I save about 97 minutes a week. I can take a pottery class!

HA. It's equal parts funny and sad, because it is SO TRUE. We could all save so much time and energy and focus that could be so much better spent. Not just on mindful eating as this study asserts but on just about everything else in life that is so much more important than our outward appearance.

So, next time I catch myself sweating bullets over not having as flat a stomach as I may have once had, upper arm flab I'm not thrilled with exposing in a tank top, or whatever icky, nitpicky, dysfunctional body image-based issue I'm having with myself on any given day, I'm going to shift my focus to something actually worthy of my attention. Not because I'm worried the distraction will cause me to go to town on a bag of chips, as these researchers threaten. But because being our own worst haters is pretty much the last thing we should be doing with our valuable time and precious energy, don't you think?

How do you usually feel after seeing yourself in a full-length mirror?


Image via iStock.com/bokan76

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