Imagine Your Cravings Away!

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
9/16/2011 2:00 PM   :  48 comments   :  39,675 Views

How would you like to cut back your calories with the power of imagery?  Simply imagining the food and the sensations can help, according to a New York Times article.

"In one test 51 people were divided into three groups. One group imagined eating 30 M&M’s; another, three M&M’s; the third, none. When a bowl of M&M’s was then presented to the group, those who had imagined eating the most ate the fewest.

"The researchers chalked up the results to habituation: the manner in which the brain gets used to repeated experiences. In the same way that imagining a coral snake wrapping itself around your ankle might make you sweat, imagining eating food might have physiological effects: it may be releasing dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and satiety."    

Research has proven time and time again that imagery and visualization are strong tools for many purposes.  Athletes, seriously ill patients, and those who have other personal goals have used these methods successfully. 

One thing experts usually say is to go deeply into your visualization until you can see, feel, touch, smell, hear, and fully experience the mental experience.  This is what will help make the experience real for you.  It also assists you in recalling an experience and its success.

An example of this visualization would be taking bites of cake from an empty fork and imagining its flavor.  Rolling it around your mouth a few times and really imagining the smell and flavor.  Then swallow.  Aromatherapy may help.  If your weakness is cookies, pie, or chocolate, there are candles with those scents that might help you set up your visualization.

Do you think nothing but the real thing can help?  What about one real bite followed by two pretend bites?  It will at least slow you down and give you chance to experience the food fully.  Use all of your senses.

One of my secrets for avoiding popcorn at theaters is to breathe in deeply when I go in.  I take in all the popcorn smell I can get until I am used to it.  Then it loses its power over me. 

What is some of your favorite imagery or a visualization you use to help you?


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Comments

  • 48
    I remember back at my old job - somebody would bring in fast food & a few times I would grab their bag, almost stick my face in it... & INHALE.... DEEPLY.... then hold my breath for a few seconds. It sounds crazy, but it was actually quite satisfying. - 10/13/2011   11:10:55 AM
  • 47
    That chocolate aroma would only increase my cravings. I think what helps is to visualize that I control my cravings, and that I can be satisfied with a small portion of cake, or a small piece of chocolate.
    Your mileage may vary, but this is what works for me. - 9/23/2011   3:45:38 PM
  • MARIA1974
    46
    Honestly, I dont think this would help me especially having those type of candles that smell like cookies, pies and cakes. - 9/22/2011   5:51:57 PM
  • 45
    I'm willing to give it a try! At first I was thinking "no way" because when I see an ad on TV for something I like (like cookies) I start thinking that I want it. But I realized that I've burned "sugar cookie" candles in my house and just breathing in the scent has helped. I can enjoy the scent AND imagine eating a sugar cookie. - 9/22/2011   2:33:48 PM
  • 44
    What a great idea! I think that could work for me. I can imagine my feeling fuller than when I do eat chocolate because I could take the time to enjoy my (imaginary) food.
    I don't believe aromatherapy would help, though - that might make me hungry on the other hand. - 9/22/2011   9:01:53 AM
  • SAMSONTWINKIE
    43
    I have found that just smelling something works well, too. At work when there is a big box of doughnuts hanging around I'll just pop the top and take in a deep whiff! It helps. Which is what I need! - 9/21/2011   2:44:52 PM
  • 42
    This really works. If you do it right you won't be tempted to eat what you are visualizing. - 9/21/2011   11:57:12 AM
  • GIRLSCOUT103
    41
    have not heard of kelly howell's visualization cd's but am going to google them; also, i will be trying the lemon meringe gum.... - 9/20/2011   11:08:26 PM
  • 40
    I am gonna try this...Thanks - 9/20/2011   9:53:34 PM
  • GWENETH7
    39
    My weakness is potato chips ... my mother taught me the opposite approach ..... that is to focus on how greasy and clingy they really are!- (the only time I believe in being negative) .. - 9/20/2011   5:15:10 PM
  • 38
    Really interesting theory! I'm going to try it.
    It contrasts with what Gary Taubes thinks in his book 'Why we get fat' as he thinks that the mere thought of food and eating is enough to provoke an insulin response. In which case the body will become better at storing fat.
    Different strokes for different folks - I believe that what works for one might not work for another and think we just need to experiment until we find what works for us individually. Thanks for the interesting article! - 9/20/2011   3:44:36 PM
  • ANABOLENA
    37
    Cuando yo dejÚ de fumar, me acercaba a los que fumaban y con solo oler el humo me saciaba. Esta tÚcnica es real. - 9/20/2011   3:41:39 PM
  • CMORTON76
    36
    I have found that mint choclate chip gum and lemon merinque gum(flavors) help me - 9/20/2011   12:31:02 PM
  • JULIA2468
    35
    I use two vizualisation techniques which work for me. For example, if I'm craving chocolate: one technique is to imagine that I've just eaten four bars of chocolate. I imagine how it tasted nice, but how full I am now and to eat more would make me feel sick. Then I visualize how I've felt sick in the past after over-indulging. The other technique is to imagine that the chocolate bar is very stale or mouldy, or that there are ants crawling on it. I also remind myself how very few minutes of pleasure that chocolate bar would give me, and how upset with myself I would be to get on the scale the next day and see my weight had gone up. I also remind myself that the craving will pass in a few minutes - which it does! :-) - 9/20/2011   11:34:30 AM
  • 34
    the relationship i'm trying to develop with food is to put it in a sensible, healthy place. imagining eating M&Ms would not accomplish this, and would almost certainly backfire. i want to associate movie popcorn with a brief pleasure, coupled with the sure knowledge that too much will make me feel sick. i don't want to wallow in it. i want to understand, appreciate and normalize it. i don't think this method would be a good one for me at all.
    khairete
    suz - 9/20/2011   9:39:49 AM
  • 33
    In the past I've had candles that smell like a sweet food - carrot cake, sugar cookies, etc. I found that when those candles were around and especially burning I was at the fridge ALL THE TIME. I was craving what I was smelling! I got rid of those candles and burn more minty and spice candles and don't have the cravings to eat. Candles are not a good suggestion for my $.02.
    I'll have to try the imagining thing and see if it works. We'll see.....
    Interesting concept. - 9/20/2011   9:37:48 AM
  • GOOFY4GOOFY
    32
    Visualization is very good but I have a different way to think about the really good foods that are bad for me. I assign a negative feeling or an experience to the food. For instance, there have been a couple of times when I drink pop (soda), I noticed that my teeth hurt, so the next time that I think I want pop I think of my teeth hurting and therefore am turned off by the idea of drinking pop. For popcorn I think of all the salt (that irritates my lips) and greasy butter (that makes me feel kind of sick). When I think of eating cake I think of stale cake and trick my mind into thinking that it will taste bad because its old. Of course I do have my bad days but for the most part it works for me. If I smell food and visualize eating food (in a good way), I will eat it so I have to think negative about the food to avoid it. - 9/20/2011   9:27:19 AM
  • 31
    I'm pretty sure this wouldn't work for me. I think it would just make me want it more. But I'll give it a try. If it works, it will be a great tool! - 9/20/2011   9:25:59 AM
  • TSANC01
    30
    Usually the smell of popcorn does want me to plunge right into it, but I will try the visualization method the next time I have a craving or when I just want to pick. Thanks for the article. - 9/20/2011   9:22:15 AM
  • 29
    This is funny, because I was just at a football game this weekend. The funnel cake smelled SO GOOD! My husband and I got one to share, but I ended up only taking a few bites, because I realized that I enjoyed the smell of it more than I enjoyed the taste. I definitely think the visualization helps, especially if you embrace all of the other senses. - 9/20/2011   8:48:21 AM
  • CHRISTY0615
    28
    While the imagery might work, I don't think the aromatherapy part would work for me. I do like food scents (Angel perfume, with notes of chocolate; plug ins with vanilla and "kitchen spice" scents), sometimes they just make me crave food more. - 9/20/2011   8:38:49 AM
  • GAMMER3
    27
    Not sure visualizing food will work but I do know that visualizing how you will look and feel when you've reached your goal(s) is a great motivator.
    - 9/20/2011   7:42:05 AM
  • TSAFSTEN
    26
    I've been doing this on my own but instead of imagining myself enjoying the food, I imagine only that last bite: scraping the bottom of the bowl for that last bit of ice cream or licking my fingers for those last few crumbs of brownie. Feeling the disappointment at finishing the treat helps me to avoid starting it for real! - 9/20/2011   6:51:25 AM
  • KGARBACK
    25
    I have heard several people describe similar visualization processes to control impulse eating. I will try this -- thanks! - 9/19/2011   3:21:27 PM
  • 24
    I understand what they are talking about in this article, but it makes me laugh to think what others would think if I took imaginary bites during lunch! :) - 9/19/2011   2:48:12 PM
  • 23
    I tend to try to avoid looking at the foods I want because the desire to want it tends to become stronger. But, I think I will try this.

    Reading this reminded me of this past Friday. I was in the mall and went to the food court and couldn't resist this chicken/bowl type meal I wanted badly. So I got it. I dived right in thinking it's going to be the best tasting meal. Wrong! It was not good at all! I threw half of it away. So not like me. It's the second time in recent months I went bonkers over some type of food from the mall food court and it turned out to be horrible. I'm not talking the common McDonalds, BK, Subway. I referring to off named places that have the grilled chicken, etc in the showcase. I'm so done with those places. I now view places like that as cheaply prepared food and a waste of money and calories. Yuck! - 9/19/2011   1:21:54 PM
  • 22
    Will have to try this..... - 9/19/2011   12:42:48 PM
  • GMAGEE
    21
    This reminds me of an old 'Odd Couple' show from the 70s in which Felix (Tony Randall) and Oscar (Jack Klugman) go to a 'Fat Camp' to lose weight and get healthy. Their first meal consists of empty plates and forks and they are instructed to visualize their meal. Oscar's response is to break out of the camp to raid the local deli. I can still smell the salami he dumps from his bag of eats onto his dorm room bed. That's visualization! - 9/19/2011   10:27:44 AM
  • 20
    I know this works. I always experience vivid dreams in color and if I have a dream that I'm eating a lot of food, I feel extremely stuffed upon waking up for hours after. Thanks to Kelly Howell's CD's my power of visualization is getting much better and even seeing people eat food in a movie fills me up. - 9/19/2011   9:01:50 AM
  • 19
    I don't see that working for me, but I'll give it a try. I think it will only make me want the forbidden food more. On the other hand, I can see how getting used to the popcorn smell can make it lose its power over me. I think that will be more useful, but I'll give the visualization a chance. - 9/18/2011   11:25:05 PM
  • WILDNTEXAS
    18
    Ok, this might work for some, but not for me. I have to think of something besides the food that I want, or I want it - and sometimes crave it. On the other hand, I do try to visualize what it will be like when I reach my goals (more fit, skinnier, healthier) and that seems to motivate me to keep working towards them. - 9/18/2011   5:43:32 PM
  • 17
    Look into Guided Imagery on the internet and try one of those CDs. They are a big help for many things if you really work with it. - 9/18/2011   2:58:04 PM
  • 16
    I know I often disagree with some of the articles I read here, but this time I agree. In the mid-1990's I was on the OptiFast plan, a 20-week, medically supervised and monitored liquid diet. I did get a lot of pleasure by smelling and imagining eating the foods that were at bbq's, family gatherings, etc. People would ask "Isn't this hard for you? Doesn't that make you crave it?".. The answer was "No, I know what it tastes like". The smells were wonderful and gave me a lot of pleasure. The first few days of the diet were hell, but after that I got used to it and even enjoyed knowing that the hunger I was feeling was making a big difference in my life. I lost over 70 lbs in those 5 months. Too bad I moved away from a hospital that has that program (and it was expensive) since I put it back on over 5 or 6 years.. This time around I am doing it the Spark way. It's proved to be more sensible, practical, free, do-able and permanent! Imagery has value and I'm glad I saw this article today as a very powerful and positive reminder. Thank you, SPARK. - 9/18/2011   2:46:56 PM
  • KUCKLES
    15
    I don't see how this could possibly work. Imagining the food will make you want it more, right? - 9/18/2011   1:11:23 PM
  • KIMDA71
    14
    I'll have to try this one when the chocolate craving hits! - 9/18/2011   12:22:19 AM
  • 13
    I imagine myself thinner, and more toned. - 9/17/2011   5:03:41 PM
  • 12
    Nice to see this topic pop up! I have been practicing the slowing down and enjoying the flavor of just one bite of a favorite food, seems the extra time provides satisfaction of hunger with smaller quantities. I have a high protein low carb oven toasted 12 inch submarine sandwich that has been reduced to thirds with this method of mind over matter. I've found 1 piece .33 of a serving of "Orange Slice" candy can be rolled around and get the full citrus flavor for an hour, I just have to refrain from chewing. Long after the sandpaper texture of the granulated sugar, has melted away, the gel of the candy has much flavor that melts away slowly. I now can have one piece at 42 calories and the all important 11grams of carbs, due to me being diabetic. It reduces my injection levels by working on my habits this way. I find it effective, thanks for the article. - 9/17/2011   11:51:24 AM
  • 11
    I had cravings for walnuts... couldn't get enough. Ate them morning noon and night. Put them in everything... even carried them with me on trips. Then one day I had a routine blood test and learned my iron was depleted. It was so low that taking iron pills wasn't an option. I had to have an iron infusion. After a few weeks, my cravings for walnuts... and other cravings I had, was gone. So if you can't stop the cravings through visualization, have your blood checked. You could have a deficiency causing the problem. - 9/17/2011   10:33:27 AM
  • 10
    That last statement about the popcorn is the one I needed.
    Gonna have to try this...much strength needed! - 9/17/2011   9:56:56 AM
  • 9
    I cured my donut addiction this way. I stood in the grocery store at the bakery counter, eyes closed, and imagined eating a peanut butter filled, chocolate iced donut. I imagined biting in, tasting th sweet filling, the dough, the chocolate......what I felt on my tongue was the grease. My eyes popped open, and I could not get the imaginary taste of grease out of my mouth. That was several years ago, and I haven't touched a donut since. - 9/17/2011   7:58:39 AM
  • 8
    When I'm really craving a food, I do this so much that when I actually eat the food, it never tastes as good as it did in my mind! I'm a huge sugar addict, and realizing this (repeatedly) finally broke my "cake" obsession, and it's beginning to work on ice cream and cookies, too. I never realized imagery could help me stay focused! - 9/17/2011   3:56:25 AM
  • 7
    I've often noted that talking about food, cooking, and reading about food reduces food cravings for me. I like the idea of 'virtual' eating as a technique too. (It also helps to imagine that the wonderful pastry you're gazing longingly at is really a painted plaster of Paris stage prop.....) - 9/17/2011   1:03:20 AM
  • PRUSSIANETTE
    6
    I gave up candles smelling like cookies and other food items as it just seemed to trigger me eating the stuff. - 9/17/2011   12:10:14 AM
  • 5
    That would NEVER work for me. I love food and eat in moderation. Can't imagine deliscious sorry. - 9/16/2011   11:14:11 PM
  • 4
    This I am certainly going to have to try.

    Thanks - 9/16/2011   10:42:15 PM
  • 3
    Ill have to give this a try
    - 9/16/2011   4:49:49 PM
  • 2
    I always thought it was weird that I like to look through my cookbooks and imagine eating the dishes I see while I think about making them and instead of feeling hungrier I actually feel that it staves off my hunger a bit. Maybe this explains it:) - 9/16/2011   2:54:35 PM
  • 1
    I strongly believe that Visualization and the concepts in this article. My husband and I went to a Hockey game last night and both of us associate going to the game with Crab Fries, Nachos, Icecream, Popcorn and all that "stadium food"....I urged him to smell it really well and imagine we've already eaten it and handed him a cheese stick that I'd brought in my handbag....we got through it great...the smells were fantastic...I could literally taste the crab fries just by the strong smell. However, I felt so much better about myself for not giving into the temptation and so did he. We are diet buddies as well as life partners. Trying to hold each other up when we feel weak. It's nice to have someone you love on the journey. - 9/16/2011   2:34:11 PM

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