You’ve just had a CoolSculpting treatment, and the last thing on your mind is ruining your results with dessert. But imagine that you’re eating a whole cake, anyway, picturing yourself biting into a slice, chewing a mouthful, and finally swallowing it before you repeat the whole process again. No, we’re not being cruel – a study published in the journal Science says that this can actually help you fight cravings and lose weight.
The study, led by a psychologist at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, suggests that imagining eating something you crave actually does the opposite of what most of us believe it would do: it dampens your appetite for that food you’re craving! Here’s how they came to this conclusion.
In a series of experiments, the researchers asked one group of participants to imagine eating a lot of a particular food, like M&Ms, while another group was asked to imagine eating just a few. A third group was asked to imagine doing something completely different and unrelated to eating (putting money into a parking meter). Once they spent some time doing this, each group was presented with a bowl of M&Ms, allowing them to eat as much as they wanted.
Surprisingly, the group that was asked to imagine eating a lot of M&Ms actually ate significantly fewer than the other groups! Researchers believe this occurred because of habituation. When referring to food, habituation is the process in which your first bite is the best, while with each subsequent bite your craving becomes weaker and weaker, until you’re satiated and stop. When the one group of participants was asked to imagine eating a lot of M&Ms, researchers believe that they had already satiated their craving to a certain extent, even though it wasn’t in reality.
“These results tell us that habituation can occur in the absence of exposure to the stimulus itself – and just purely as a result of the mental presentation of the stimulus,” said Dr. Morewedge, the lead researcher of the study.
So before you dive into that food you know will ruin your dieting efforts, try to spend a few minutes imagining that you’ve eaten a lot of it. In real life, you may be able to stop yourself from gorging or even not eat any of it at all!