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How to Reduce Food Cravings

Most people who engage in mindless eating would love to have more ways to reduce food cravings. In “A role for mental imagery in the experience and reduction of food cravings,” Eva Kemps and Marika Tiggemann tell us how our visualizations can help (frontiers in PSYCHIATRY, 10/30/14, http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/124542/full).

They define food cravings as “an intense desire or urge to eat a specific food” and state that “It is this specificity that distinguishes a craving from ordinary food choices and hunger.” What they’re saying is that when you’re sufficiently hungry and know you’re seeking nourishment, that is a different internal state than simply desiring a particular food and no other for no discernible reason. The article goes on to explain that when people crave food, “they have vivid images of the desired food, including how delicious it looks and how good it tastes and smells” and that “craving-related food images are predominantly visual, gustatory and olfactory in nature.” Not surprisingly, the intensity of these cravings “has been shown to correlate with the vividness of appetitive images” and that “sensory images are a key component of the cognitive elaboration that follows an initial intrusive thought about the craved substance.”

Studies tell us how this works: “competing cognitive tasks that disrupt mental imagery can suppress food cravings. Admittedly, research to date only shows that visualization leads to short-term craving reduction, which means that when you cease imagining the disrupting imagery, the craving may return. What you get then is only momentary relief. But, in my book, in-the-moment relief is better than none at all. Moreover, if you can string together enough momentary visualizations to reduce cravings, you have a greater chance of not acting on an unwanted craving at all.

Need some help. There’s even an app designed to help eaters visualize scenes to prevent unwanted cravings and commercially available non-food odorants that you can carry around to generate olfactory distraction. Who knew there were such things? Moreover, why not experiment on your own? Anyone can create mental imaginary. If you can imagine the food you’re craving, you can also imagine smelling or tasting or doing something else. A reminder that when you have a craving, you don’t want to think about not having it. That will only keep you focused on the craving—if I tell you not to touch your face, what do you end up thinking about except your face. If you’re going to daydream, pick pleasures that perk up your senses and don’t forget to use all of them in finding pleasure, not only the delight of taste.

Keep an Open, Not a Closed Mind
What Does Emotional Health Look Like?

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