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June 2011 - Lose Weight By Fantasizing?

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Most dieters will agree, one of the hardest parts of sticking to any healthy eating plan is dealing with cravings. That is, until now. Losing weight has never been easier, with what some are calling the “Imagination Diet.” As it turns out, the key to eliminating the great temptation of a craving is to eat as much of the foods you crave in your own mental fantasy.

The Study

The researchers wanted to find out if “imagined habituation” (thinking something over and over again – kind of like a habit) could play a role in curbing appetite.

Habituation is similar to the principle of diminishing returns. For example, have you ever craved chocolate… and then caved in?

Eating one piece of chocolate tastes great and exciting; but as you continue eating more… the  fourth and fifth pieces don’t have the same level of pleasure as the first. With each bite that follows, your desire for the chocolate drops. That’s habituation.

It’s why you can get “sick” of eating too much of the same food. After a while, it becomes commonplace and loses its appeal.

The Method

In order to determine exactly how the imagination can affect how much we eat, the researchers divided the subjects into two groups.

The first group was told to imagine eating 30 M&M chocolate candies and putting three quarters into a slot.

The second group was told to visualize putting 30 quarters into a slot and only eating 3 M&Ms.

Then, the team of researchers got a large bowl of M&Ms and asked the subjects to have as many as they wanted. This was done under the pretense that they were doing a “taste test.”

After the subjects ate the M&Ms, the researchers weighed the bowl to see how many grams were consumed. This was done without the subjects knowing.

The Results – Eating in Your Imagination Curbs Appetite

It turns out that eating in your mind does in fact make you eat less in the real world.

The group that imagined eating 30 M&Ms ate half as many as the group that imagined eating only 3. And in case you think this was a fluke – it wasn’t.

The researchers tried this experiment on four more separate occasions with different groups of people.

The ratio stayed the same. Those that imagined eating more of the M&Ms ate 50% less than those who imagined eating only three candies.

According to Carey Morewedge, the lead researcher in this study, “Merely thinking of a food does increase our appetite for the food.  But if we perform the mental imagery that would accompany its actual consumption, this kind of thought actually decreases our desire for the food.”

How this can Help You

This recent research confirms what we in the hypnosis community have known all along: Your mind is the most powerful ally when it comes to losing weight and getting fit.


Because imagining something in your mind creates the same physical responses in your body as if you were experiencing that thing in real life… Pretty Crazy!

So next time you find yourself craving that burger… or that piece of chocolate… imagine eating it a few times first. Then, see if you find yourself eating less when you do indulge.

Let me know what happens. I’d love to hear how this little insight works out for you.
Source: Morewedge, C. K., Huh, Y. E., & Vosgerau, J. (2010). Thought for food: Imagined consumption reduces actual consumption. Science, 303, 1530-1533.

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