Want to Eat Healthier? Visualize It!
BY: Nancy Gottesman
Atkins Diet, check. South Beach Diet, check. Low-fat, low-carb diets, check, check. You’ve tried them all, and they all worked … for a while. But now the pounds are creeping up. What to try next? How about your imagination? Two new studies have shown that visualization can be a powerful tool if you want to lose weight and eat healthier.
Visualization Can Help Curb Cravings
In the first study, conducted at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, one group of participants was asked to visualize themselves eating 30 M&M’s candies, while another group was asked to imagine eating only three. The result? When presented with a bowl of M&M’s and invited to help themselves, those who visualized nibbling 30 candies ate much fewer than those who visualized eating just three, reports study author Carey Morewedge, who holds a doctorate in social psychology and is an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon.
Suppressing your cravings for certain foods (like cookies and chips) is a flawed strategy because it appears to only whet your appetite, according to Morewedge. On the other hand, “repeated imagined consumption reduces people’s appetite and their motivation to consume the food,” she says.
Visualization Helps You Eat Healthier
In another study conducted at McGill University in Montreal, 177 students were asked to set a goal of consuming more fruits for one week. All succeeded in boosting their fruit consumption, but those who visualized buying, preparing and eating fruit ate twice as much fruit as those who didn’t use visualization, reports study author Barbel Knauper, who holds a doctorate in psychology and sociology and is an associate professor at McGill University.
Previous research has shown that making a concrete plan to eat healthier foods (such as making a grocery list and then mapping out the most convenient place to shop) can be very effective, notes Knauper. The difference in this study was that the students not only made concrete plans, but also visualized themselves carrying the plans out. “For instance, they imagined that each time they opened the fridge, they’d grab a handful of grapes and eat them,” says Knauper.
How to Eat Healthier Using Visualization
1. Make a detailed, personalized plan and write it down. For instance: “When I’m at the supermarket, I’ll buy carrots and hummus to eat as a healthy snack” or “When I stop at McDonald’s, I’ll get a salad.”
2. Imagine yourself carrying out the plan. Visualize this as vividly as possible. Envision specifics, such as the time of day and at which store you’ll buy the healthy food, as well as how you’ll prepare it.
3. Visualize eating treats one unit at a time. If you’re craving chocolate, potato chips, or another junky food, imagining yourself eating carrot sticks won’t help, according to Morewedge. What does? Visualize yourself eating your treat one unit at a time. This will help you eat less of it when faced with the real thing.
Imagination is a powerful thing. And now studies show that if you want to eat healthier and lose weight, visualization can help you reach your goals.
Nancy Gottesman was a senior
editor at Shape
magazine for 11 years. Since going freelance, she's been
writing on health and nutrition for publications such as Ladies’ Home
Journal; O, The Oprah Magazine; Parents; Fit Pregnancy; and Viv. Nancy is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.
Recipe of the Week
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