Healthy living * Weight loss

Imagining food helps with weight loss

Imagining food helps with weight loss Think yourself thin

If you are trying to lose weight, imagine feasting on your favourite food and devouring every last bite, as scientists have discovered that imagining eating a food, curbs your craving to eat it.

Dr Carey Morewedge from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who led the study, said trying to suppress one's thoughts of desired foods to curb food cravings is a "fundamentally flawed strategy."

In the study, groups of volunteers were asked to imagine performing repetitive actions such as placing lots of coins into a laundry machine or eating a number of M&M sweets, both of which require similar motor actions. Other groups ate fewer M&M's, but inserted more coins, or ate more M&M's but inserted fewer coins. After this, everyone ate freely from a bowl filled with M&M's.

The volunteers who imagined eating 30 M&M's ate significantly fewer M&M's than those in the other groups.

The psychologists repeated the experiments, but with cubes of cheese instead of sweets, and showed that the reduced craving was specific for the imagined food.

Eating less of a specific food after repeatedly thinking about it was down to a psychological effect known as "habituation."

"Habituation is one of the fundamental processes that determine how much we consume of a food or a product, when to stop consuming it, and when to switch to consuming another food or product," said study co-author Dr Joachim Vosgerau.

"To some extent, merely imagining an experience is a substitute for actual experience. The difference between imagining and experiencing may be smaller than previously assumed."

Dr Morewedge added: "We think these findings will help develop future interventions to reduce cravings for things such as unhealthy food, drugs and cigarettes, and hope they will help us learn how to help people make healthier food choices."

The findings are published in the journal Science.

This article was published on Fri 10 December 2010

Image © Andrejs Pidjass -

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