If you’re having trouble sticking to your diet plan, you may want to try going to a museum and looking at art — it might inspire you to make healthier food choices.
According to new research, some experts believe that environmental cues — such as art and images — may be a good tool to help people make healthy choices when it comes to dieting.
Published in the journal Appetite, researchers at the University of Bern in Switzerland did two studies on whether looking at infamously thin sculptures by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti had any effect on how a person ate afterward.
The researchers first studied how much 114 people ate after looking at images of the thin sculptures. Then, some of the participants went into a room where a screensaver of Giacometti’s sculpture Piazza was projected onto the wall. The other participants did not see the screen saver. Afterward, all participants were given blueberries and chocolate and were told they could eat as much as they wanted. The researchers found that the people who saw the projection of the screensaver ate less blueberries and chocolate, compared to the participants who did not see the image.
In their second study, the researchers asked 60 people to write down the first word that came to their minds after being shown fragments of words related to health or weight. However, before writing down the words, some of the participants saw a screensaver of Giacometti’s sculptures; the other participants were shown a blank screen.
The researchers were surprised to find that the people who were “restrained eaters” — people who regularly try to lose weight — wrote more weight-related words when they looked at images of the sculpture. They also found that people who looked at Giacometti’s sculptures ate less, which was even more so the case for people who were frequent dieters.
Giacometti’s skinny sculptures were picked on purpose — the researchers wanted to know if people were making better food choices because they were triggered to remember their weight-loss goals.
Their findings, the study’s authors say, confirm that environmental cues may encourage people to make better food choices, but there’s no need to look at Giacometti’s sculptures every time you get hungry.
“It must be acknowledged that human bodies with figures similar to these [Giacometti sculptures] would be seriously underweight,” says study author Aline E. Stampfli of the University of Bern‘s Department of Consumer Behavior. “Thus, they would be perceived as less attractive and thus less motivating than figures…of normal body mass. Using healthier-looking human figures could work better than skinny human figures.”
More research is needed to understand how art could play a larger role in helping people make healthy decisions, but the researchers say that environmental cues should be considered as a viable tool to help dieters stay on track.
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.