Mental Imagery a New Weight-Loss Tool?12/09/10
THURSDAY, Dec. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers report that
they may have hit on a new trick for weight loss: To eat less of a
certain food, they suggest you envision yourself gobbling it up
Repeatedly imagining the consumption of a food reduces one's
appetite for it at that moment, said lead researcher Carey
Morewedge, an assistant professor of social and decision sciences
at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
"Most people think that imagining a food increases their desire for it and whets their appetite. Our findings show that it is not so simple," she said.
Thinking of a food -- how it tastes, smells or looks -- does
increase our appetite. But performing the mental imagery of
actually eating that food decreases our desire for it, Morewedge
For the study, published in the Dec. 10 issue of
Science, Morewedge's team conducted five experiments. In one, 51 individuals were asked to imagine doing 33 repetitive actions, one at a time. A control group imagined putting 33 coins into a washing machine. Another group imagined putting 30 quarters into the washer and eating three M&Ms. A third group imagined feeding three quarters into the washer and eating 30 M&Ms.
The individuals were then invited to eat freely from a bowl of
M&Ms. Those who had imagined eating 30 candies actually ate
fewer candies than the others, the researchers found.
To be sure the results were related to imagination, the
researchers then mixed up the experiment by changing the number of
coins and M&Ms. Again, those who imagined eating the most
candies ate the fewest.
In three additional experiments, Morewedge's group confirmed
that imagining the eating reduced actual consumption through a
process known as habituation. Simply thinking about the food
repeatedly or imagining eating a different food did not
significantly influence consumption, the researchers also
This simulation technique might also help reduce cravings for
unhealthy foods and drugs, the authors say.
However, at least one expert had reservations about the
"This small study may offer insights for further research, but the message is not that we can think ourselves thin or reduce food cravings by repeatedly imagining eating a certain food," said Samantha Heller, clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn.
It was not in the scope of the study to examine how long the
effect described lasted, but it is important to consider, she said.
Was it five minutes? Two days? Were the participants hungry during
one part of the study but not during another arm of the experiment?
And were they normal weight, overweight or underweight, she
"All these factors, and many more, could affect how someone responds to repeatedly imagining eating a certain food," Heller said.
Overweight or obese people may have very different psychological
and biochemical responses to this simulation approach compared with
normal-weight individuals, she noted.
"Food cravings are a complex mix of physiological, psychological, environmental and hormonal aspects," Heller added.
"Adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as eating vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains, and exercising, may help reduce the strength and frequency of food cravings," she added.
For more information on losing weight, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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