Thinking about eating your favorite food can help you avoid eating it.
Researchers have found that fantasizing about your favorite food really can help you avoid eating it. Scientists showed day dreaming of a delicious meal actually reduces one’s desire for it.
The trick is to visualize gorging non-stop on the food, rather than conjuring up an appetite-whetting single image.
This feeds into natural mechanisms that control consumption and prevent overindulgence, said the researchers.
Dr Carey Morewedge, the study leader from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said trying to suppress thoughts of desired foods to curb cravings was a “fundamentally flawed strategy”.
“Our studies found that instead, people who repeatedly imagined the consumption of a morsel of food – such as an M&M or cube of cheese – subsequently consumed less of that food than did people who imagined consuming the food a few times or performed a different but similarly engaging task.”
The researchers conducted tests in which groups of volunteers were asked to imagine repetitively placing coins into a laundry machine or popping M&Ms – sugar-coated chocolate buttons – into their mouths.
Both involve similar actions and involved repetitions of around 30.
Some participants had to imagine eating more M&Ms while inserting fewer coins, while others did the reverse or only imagined inserting coins.
Later all the volunteers were presented with a bowl of the sweets and invited to eat their fill.
Those who had previously imagined swallowing M&Ms many times over helped themselves to half as many sweets from the bowl than did members of the other groups.
Further experiments were carried out substituting cheese cubes for M&Ms. They confirmed that the effect was food specific – if volunteers thought about eating M&Ms or cheese cubes they were put off eating that food.
But thinking of M&Ms did not reduce their appetite for cheese, and thinking of cheese did not lessen consumption of M&Ms.
The findings, published in the journal Science, showed that thoughts of eating a particular food tapped into a psychological effect called “habituation” which reduces motivation.
“Across the experiments that measured actual consumption, we saw an approximate decrease of 50 per cent,” said Dr Morewedge.
“That said, I do not want to blow out of proportion the efficacy of the imagery induction, as this meant that participants tended to eat 2-6 grams of candy when they imagined eating the food or cheese rather than 4-12 grams of candy or cheese.
“Our findings show that repeatedly imagining the consumption of a food reduces subsequent actual consumption of that food because imagining its consumption reduces one’s appetite for it–how much one wants to eat more of the food at that particular moment.”
The landmark discovery seems to reverses decades-old assumption that thinking about food causes you to eat more.