Friday, December 10, 2010

Successful Dieting Tool Or Path To Disordered Eating?

Visualizing dessert can help you eat less later.
Today, fast food restaurants pepper every city block and increasingly sedentary lifestyles have decreased physical activity opportunities for millions of Americans; However, portion control remains one of the most promising tools for weight loss or healthy weight maintenance. A recent study by Carnegie Mellon researchers analyzed undergrad food consumption under varying circumstances. They found that students who visualized the process of eating the food in front of them before they ate it ultimately consumed significantly less than those who were told to focus on an unrelated visualizing task. While this research offers a potentially promising weight loss option for dieters, it seems that promoting this type of behavior leads to over-thinking the basic essence of a meal. Instead of food simply being sustenance, it becomes a battle of sorts between the consumer and the consumed. This does not strike me as the healthiest approach.

However, previous findings suggest that asking dieters to ignore food cravings to distract themselves from their hunger typically backfires. It’s like the psych 101 white bear theory. If you tell a group not to think about a white bear, it is suddenly the only thing anyone can think about. Images of white bears literally take over the brain even as one tries desperately to suppress the thought. So, if not visualizing food leads a dieter to obsess about that taboo slice of cake, perhaps imagining the consumption of the decadent dessert prior to eating can truly minimize eventual food intake. Food visualization could be a first step towards overall portion control by tricking the brain into thinking the eater is satisfied.

In the end, many of these studies need to be replicated under a variety of conditions to see if certain theories can be applied to the population at large, but it seems as if visualizing techniques could be a valuable weight loss tool to help some individuals keep calories in check.

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