December 10, 2010

"Thought for Food"

Want to eat less? Then start by thinking really hard about eating that ice cream sundae you're craving. A new study suggests that you can fill yourself up simply by imagining that you've eaten something. Here's how it works (via Scientific American):
[S]cientists had people imagine eating M&Ms. Thirty-three of them. One after another. They asked a second group to imagine an activity that was equally repetitive, but less filling: pumping 33 quarters into a clothes dryer. Then they put out a bowl of M&Ms.

Sure enough, people who’d already maxed out on M&Ms in their mind ate fewer than the folks who’d been doing their mental laundry. The results appear in the journal Science. [Carey Morewedge, Young Eun Huh and Joachim Vosgerau,"Thought for Food: Imagined Consumption Reduces Actual Consumption"]
As any athlete or dancer can tell you, visualization of a task can affect muscle memory and coordination -- the brain has learned the motions even though you haven't moved. It sounds like the brain does something analogous when it visualizes eating -- at the end of the process, the brain thinks it's full.

This seems to require a certain amount of focus and, for lack of a better term, mind control. You can't just obsess over junk food -- you have to imagine eating it bite by bite. Still it certainly suggests that we don't just have to be a victim of our cravings -- we can use them to keep us from eating more than we want. Food for... Oh, never mind.

Flickr photo: Jun Acullador

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