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The Imagination Diet: Is it Really Mind Over Matter?

March 9, 2011

Let’s try an experiment. Close your eyes and imagine your favorite food. A nice juicy steak cooked to perfection, an oven fresh pizza, or a hot fudge sundae with all your favorite toppings. Whatever it may be, imagine it sitting right in front of you at this very moment. Getting hungry? Beginning to crave that food? More than likely yPhoto provided by thrimp of stock.xchng, are—it’s natural. By doing this you sensitize, or induce a desire, to the food you are imagining. The mind is a powerful tool, and merely thinking about something such as food can stimulate the body as if it were physically present. Is your mouth watering? I know mine was. It’s a perfect example of how the body can be triggered physically as a result of mental stimulus.

Now, don’t just imagine the food. Imagine, in great detail, eating it too. Take your fork, spoon, or other utensil and get a piece then put it in your mouth, chew it, enjoy its wonderful aroma and flavor, savor each bite, now swallow. Repeat. Repeat again. One more time. Are you starting to feel satisfied? Probably not, but you may be surprised if the food you were imagining was to be placed directly in front of you right now. New evidence would suggest the more you imagined, in detail, eating that specific food the less of it you would subsequently eat if it was presented to you afterwards.

Sounds a little crazy, right? Could this really work? The researchers behind a recent study published in Science Magazine titled, ‘Thought for Food: Imagined Consumption Reduces Actual Consumption’, propose it could. Based off the five experiments within the study the results “suggest that mental representation alone can engender habituation to a stimulus.” Translation: people who repeatedly imagine eating a specific food eat less of it when actually introduced to it.  

But much like the sight or smell of a cigarette increases a smokers’ craving simply imagining the food item isn’t enough to suppress an urge to eat it. The researchers suggest that in order to potentially decrease the desire one must imagine consuming the food in detail, repeatedly.

The study, which consisted of 5 separate experiments took participants and subjected them to repetitive imagery such as repeatedly eating M&M’s or cubes of cheddar cheese. What the authors found was that “repetitive imaginary consumption of a food reduces subsequent food intake”, as long as the food they were imagining was the same one offered to them to eat afterwards.

Who would have thought that by only imagining eating a food repeatedly it could result in reduced desire for the food itself? It’s truly an amazing concept. Even though this study had a relatively low number of participants, ranging from 51-68 people, and more research needs to be done the results are noteworthy. Most of all, the study demonstrates that the mind is an immensely effective instrument and that mental imagery could have important implications in the area of nutrition. 

By conducting further research new and more effective interventions to reduce cravings for unwanted foods, along with other dietary interventions, could be on the horizon.


Do you think mental imagery can help reduce cravings or be used for other interventions? How do you feel the results this study could be used in the future? We’d love to hear your thoughts so post a comment below and let us know.


  1. Morewedge, Carey K. , Young Eun Huh, and Joachim Vosgerau. “Thought for Food: Imagined Consumption Reduces Actual Consumption.” Science 10 Dec. 2010: 1530-1533. Science – The World’s Leading Journal of Original Scientific Research, Global News, and Commentary. Web. 4 Mar. 2011.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2011 5:27 PM

    I absolutely believe that mental imagery plays a huge role in not only food consumption, but achieving goals. Visualization can help an individual realize their goals and set them into motion.

    Visualization was used in ‘Apollo’ flight preparation program. The process of visualization was investigated during the preparation of olympic athletes 1980-1990. The athletes were hooked to the sophisticated biofeedback equipment and were asked to run their event only in their mind. What they found was that the same muscles fired in the same sequence when they were running the race only in their mind as they were running it on the track.

    I’m a believer that this same technique can be applied in almost any arena, including achieving nutrition and weight loss goals. Body follows mind. And at the end of the day, it could never hurt to try!

    • March 9, 2011 9:06 PM

      Thank you for your comment, Elise. I couldn’t agree more. If order to achieve one’s goals, in anything, they must first believe they can. I think the saying is, “Believe and you can achieve.” It’s right on.

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