Eat less by thinking about food more? Scientists say it’s possible

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: March 30th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Chocolate chip cookies. Ice cream sundaes drizzled with fudge and loaded with whipped cream. A big juicy hamburger with crisp salty fries on the side.

Am I making you hungry? Actually, by making you think about eating, I may be helping you eat less.

It sounds counterintuitive, but researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have found that picturing yourself eating a big meal may decrease your interest once you pick up your fork.

To test their theory, the scientists recruited four-hundred volunteers, whom they divided into groups. All of the volunteers were shown an image of M&Ms on a computer screen. One group was told to imagine putting the candies into a bowl while the other was instructed to picture putting the M&Ms into their mouths.

Afterward, the groups were given M&Ms and told to eat as many as they would like. The participants who imagined moving the candies ate twice as many as those who pictured themselves eating them.

Why did this happen? Researchers think it’s because our brain becomes confused by the virtual eating. In fact, your body may start to react as though you are actually eating, releasing dopamine and triggering other physical responses. So by the time you dig in, you’re no longer as excited by the prospect of food.

Is this really a good weight-loss strategy? Experts are skeptical. But it does add weight to the belief that being distracted while you eat leads to overconsumption. For example, you’re more likely to eat too much if you’re munching mindlessly while watching television instead of focusing on your food.

So click off the TV and sit down at the table. Take a moment to concentrate on what you’re eating. It gives a whole new meaning to “food for thought.”