Holiday Dieting? Imagine Eating Those Fattening Foods

Just imagine yourself eating these...: Credit: Hemera/Thinkstock via ScienceMag.comJust imagine yourself eating these...: Credit: Hemera/Thinkstock via ScienceMag.comA small study conducted by psychologists at Carnegie Melon University gives pause to the logical conclusion that if you're dieting you should not dwell on your favorite fattening foods.  On the contrary, the study suggests, you should imagine that you are actually eating them.

The study involved 51 volunteers divided into two groups.  Each group was given a set of 33 instructions to imagine.  There were two basic instructions given: to imagine eating M&Ms and to imagine putting a coin in a laundry machine.

One group was told to imagine eating 30 M&Ms and to insert 3 quarters.  The second group was told to imagine eating 3 M&Ms and insert 30 quarters.  After that, both groups were allowed to eat their fill of M&Ms. 

The group that had imagined eating 30 M&Ms actually ate an average of 2.2 grams, while the coin inserters ate an average of 4.2 grams of M&Ms, nearly twice as many.  Although, on a subsequent questionnaire, the subjects reported that imagining eating food had no effect on their actual consumption of the food.

The positive effects of thinking about eating something prior to eating it, is an example of habituation, psychologists say.  The cravings in our minds are actually somewhat fulfilled by thinking about doing something, even if we are not conscious that this is happening.

But just to prove their theory once again, the researchers conducted another experiment using cheese cubes.  After imagining eating cheese cubes, participants played a computer game where actual cheese cubes were the reward for winning the game.  This experiment showed that those who imagined eating the food were not as willing to exert the energy needed to win the food.

More research is needed in this area, but you might try it out for yourself this season before eating a celebration dinner or going to a party. 

This study appears in the December, 2010 issue of Science.

Science via BBC News