Simply imagining eating a certain food may help you eat less of it, new research indicates. The finding challenges the assumption that thinking about a favorite food makes you crave it more and likely to eat more of it when it's available.
In a series of experiments involving dozens of volunteers at Carnegie Mellon University, researchers found that people who repeatedly imagined eating a certain food, such as a cube of cheese or an M&M candy, subsequently ate less of it than they otherwise would have.
"These findings suggest that trying to suppress one's thoughts of desired foods in order to curb cravings for those foods is a fundamentally flawed strategy," says Carey Morewedge, PhD, of Carnegie Mellon and author of the study.
"We think these findings will help develop future interventions to reduce cravings for things such as unhealthy food, drugs, and cigarettes; and hope they will help us learn how to help people make healthier food choices," Morewedge says in a news release, according to WebMD.
"People try to avoid thinking about the foods they crave," said Carey Morewedge, an experimental psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "A lot of research suggests that thought-suppression is a failed strategy. This is really the nail in the coffin for that."
Plenty of studies have shown that, whether you're actually experiencing something or merely thinking about it, the same mental processes are involved.
Singing a song in your head, for example, uses the same brain structures as listening to the song would. Simply imagining a spider crawling across your shoulders can cause sweating and rapid heart thumping. And visualizing an athletic feat or musical number before you play can boost your performance, Discovery News reports.