Imagining food prior to eating it subconsciously reduces the effort one places into eating that food.
The results from an experiment out of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh contradict previous studies that claim day-dreaming of food increases the appetite.
Researchers discovered that imagining food prior to consuming it decrease one’s overall consumption. The discovery could spark new approaches to weight-loss programs as well as curb desire for other addictive substances such as cigarettes.
Researchers used 51 undergraduate students in the experiment. Some participants imagined eating significantly more food before actually consuming the food. Half the participants imagined eating 30 M&Ms and inserting three quarters into a laundry machine slot. The other half imagined eating three M&Ms and inserting 30 quarters into a laundry machine slot.
Afterwards, the patients enjoyed some M&Ms at their leisure. The researchers found that those who imagined eating more candy beforehand ate 3 M&Ms on average whereas those from the other group averaged at 5 M&Ms.
Researchers then applied the same experiment to another group but replaced the M&Ms with cheese squares. Those who imagined eating 30 squares of cheese consumed less than those who imagined eating three.
To test whether the imagined food needed to match the real food, researchers gave cheese squares to the M&M group. Those who imagined eating 30 M&Ms ate the same amount of cheese as those who imaged eating three M&Ms. The results, published in the journal, Science, demonstrate that the imagined food needs to match the subsequently consumed food.
“If you want to curb your consumption, or at least try to exert self-control -especially over the consumption of desirable or probably even addictive substances- this will be a way to help you exert self-control,” researcher Joachim Vosgerau stated.
What does this mean for the power of imagination? Mental imagery can reduce the desire people feel for food. Imagination and lived experience are closer than we think.
At your next holiday party, imagine eating the peppermint brownies before grabbing them from the plate. You may be surprised.
One researcher, though optimistic of the study, admits that he will not attempt the new method this holiday season. “I really enjoy my mother’s cooking…I’m going to savor it while I can.”