Are Food Fantasies Good for Anything?
Have you eaten? No? Good, then consider this…
Imagine your favorite food, or dish. Think of it prepared to the pinnacle of its possible perfection, plated and served in the most alluring and appetizing way you can imagine. You are famished, and here before you lies your most coveted meal. It goes way beyond sustenance; this is nourishment, indulgence, and sensory pleasure all wrapped into one experience. You take a bite, and are hit by two revelatory waves of recognition: this is a culinary experience that is richly steeped in nostalgia, as well as an experience that is wholly expressive of pleasures you had yet to experience, and each successive bite is a reaffirmation of this fact. You continue to eat, bite after bite, until you reach a level of satiation and gratification. And then you wipe the corners of your mouth, get up from the table, and return to your life.
Are you still hungry?
Well according to a recent study in the Journal Science, you shouldn’t be…well, maybe not as hungry as you were just moments ago. The study, authored by Carey Morewedge, an assistant professor of social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, disproves conventional wisdom that thinking about a particular food will stimulate your craving for it even more and ultimately drive you to seek it out, and consume it. No, on the contrary, when you imagine, or visualize, with focus and clarity the process and experience of eating a tempting food (this means you have to put some muscle into it and not just stand around whining about how you don’t have a chocolate croissant), you are able to lessen your desire for the coveted food item.
As the study outlines:
“The consumption of a food typically leads to a decrease in its subsequent intake through habituation—a decrease in one’s responsiveness to the food and motivation to obtain it. Five experiments showed that people who repeatedly imagined eating a food (such as cheese) many times subsequently consumed less of the imagined food than did people who repeatedly imagined eating that food fewer times, imagined eating a different food (such as candy), or did not imagine eating a food. They did so because they desired to eat it less, not because they considered it less palatable. These results suggest that mental representation alone can engender habituation to a stimulus.”
This essentially means that the power of imagination and conditioning, in relationship to food cravings, can significantly alter the power and endurance of that craving. It is a delicious testimony to the overwhelming power of visualization, and calls into question the difference between imagining and experiencing, which may be less significant than previously thought.
Who buys this? Probably not people who find themselves insatiably hungry at the moment (or always). But, as we have learned from more enlightened beings, visualization is an enormously powerful tool, and should not be underestimated. Do you think it is enough to think through a craving? Or are we, as hungry humans, sadly hardwired to override even our best attempts to live and eat moderately?