BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Virtual eating: Can it really work?

Credit: vernhart flickr

Have you ever had a strong craving for a food that you know is bad for you?  For many of us, we experience strong cravings for some type of food on a daily basis.  Sometimes these cravings are so strong that the particular food we are craving becomes all we can think about or focus on until that food is consumed.  These cravings are usually triggered by something in our environment that reminds us of the specific food and they can lead to overeating.

A recent study, conducted by Carey Morewedge, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University, concluded that by imagining yourself eating a specific food, you can reduce your interest in that food and therefore eat less of it. This is known as habituation and is thought to occur naturally when we eat.  Habituation was previously thought to only occur while you are actually eating but Morewedge’s study has found that this can occur through the power of your own mind.

The answer to stopping a food craving does not come by thinking just about how the food tastes, smells and looks, but rather forcing yourself to actually imagine eating the food repeatedly.

Morewedge conducted five different studies and they all ended with the same result.  The people who imagined eating more of a specific food would want to physically eat less of that food.  In one of the experiments, 51 people were divided into three different groups. One group had to imagine inserting 30 quarters into a washing machine (this is simulating the motions of eating an M&M) and then thinking about eating three M&M’s.  The second group had to imagine putting three quarters into a washing machine and then think about eating 30 M&M’s.  The third group acted as the control and they had to imagine putting 33 quarters into a washing machine and eating no M&M’s.

The people were then given a bowl containing 1.5 ounces of M&M’s and were told to eat as many as they wanted.  When all of the participants said that they were finished the bowls were taken and weighed.  The results showed that the members of the group who virtually ate 30 M&M’s ate less actual M&M’s then the members of either of the two groups.  This proves Morewedge’s theory that thinking about eating a food has the same effects on your body as physically eating the food with none of the consequences.

If more people become aware of this study, dietary problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes could be greatly reduced.  This study may also be the key to helping people quit smoking.

The next time you have a craving something sweet or unhealthy try imaging yourself eating it first.  You may be surprised with the results.

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1 Comment

  1. yazzairbik1294

    Cool article–I’ve heard of this, but never actually found anything on it, thanks for sharing! I think it’s a really great method to try, but if it doesn’t work, people can always try o prevent cravings. Stress frequently causes cravings, so why not de-stress! Just take a break from whatever it is you’re doing and do something that helps you relax: take deep breaths, go for a quick walk, or listen to music. By de-stressing, you can prevent cravings for comfort foods which tend to be unhealthy. If nothing works, then simply brush your teeth–nothing ever tasted good with peppermint!
    Here are some more ways to control cravings!
    http://blog.gogetthin.com/intelligent-nutrition/how-to-control-cravings

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