I'm always interested to see the ways that food and science intersect.Â This week in the New York Times Science section, John Tierney coins a new diet: The "Imagine Diet."Â Based on research from Carnegie Mellon University, he contends that simply imagining eating a tempting food before digging in can help reduce the eventual consumption.Â Though I'm not advocating this diet, it's intriguing to read about how certain ways of eating healthfully can be based in scientific studies. I enjoyed Tierney's evaluation of the potential effectiveness of such a diet.Â While some cite sensitization, or increased desire for a foodÂ when imagining eating, as a reason this practice would not work, Tierney retorts with the phenomenon of habituation.Â Such as a new New Yorker becomes accustomed to the noise of the city, or a baker becomes unaware of the scents of sugar and butter around them, you get habituated to food as you eat it.
Thus, the first holiday candy in the gift basket tastes much more delicious than the fifteenth.Â Mental eating is an effective tool to reduce consumption, according to Carey Morewedge, a psychologist from Carnegie Mellon and lead author of the study.Â He posits that imagining eating a specific food, for example 30 M&Ms, will reduce the amount of M&Ms you actually eat after the imaginary eating.Â The catch is that this tool is food specific, in the studies it didn't reduce desire for other foods.
Read more about the Imaginary Diet here.