Imaginary Dieting

In college, I used to make fun of people who obsessively spent time reading and quoting newspapers. I’m pretty sure it was a backlash to living in DC and being surrounded by people much more CNN-obsessed then I could ever be. In fact, my freshman year of college, I actually witnessed a fist fight between two students at a party based on the 2004 presidential candidates. It was that ridiculous.

After leaving the hyper-political atmosphere behind, I am now one of those people who like to devour the New York Times and say nerdy things, such as “I read in the Times” or “This article in the Times said.” I don’t really like to use these catch phrases – I mentally kick myself every time I do – but I find myself wanting to talk about the articles and using that very phrase. So forgive me for the nerdish behavior I am about to exhibit. I’ll kick myself for you.

I read this article in the Times called Real Evidence that Diets are Just Imaginary. Basically, it puts forth the theory of habituation, which in reference to eating, is becoming adjusted to what you are eating until your body no longer responds to to desiring it. It’s like how you really enjoy that first slice of pizza and often the second but the very idea of slice three makes you disgusted by the very food you just enjoyed inhaling.

In the experiment described in the article, people were to imagine what it would be like to eat 30 M&M’s or 30 cubes of cheese one by one. After this mental exercise, people didn’t feel any fuller, but they were less inclined to want a lot of the M&M’s or cheese. It helped people refrain from eating past the point of hunger. Scientists (or whoever it is that studies this stuff) are still only beginnings to look into this effect and how it may change the idea of dieting, but it’s pretty interesting stuff.

Hadley dreaming about Milkbones. It doesn't seem to stop his cravings.

Personally, I think there is something to the idea. Sometimes when I am craving something that my body either knows is bad for me or doesn’t actually have room for (but there’s always room for dessert, it says) I will picture what it is I am craving. If it is something that I know how it tastes then I think about what it would be like to eat it. For instance, last night I went to sushi with friends who were talking about Crumbs. I was currently stuff to the gills with sushi (get it – because sushi is fish? Oh, man), but suddenly the idea of a Red Velvet cupcake from Crumbs seemed excellent. I then thought about what it would be like to eat the cupcake – I knew how it tasted, how the eating experience would go down – and since I just experienced it in my mind and also because I wasn’t actually hungry, I was able to dismiss the craving. This wouldn’t work if my friend was talking about a dessert I never had before. I couldn’t picture the experience and that would only probably make me want to taste the food more. It also wouldn’t have worked for me if I was actually hungry – picturing the sensation of eating the food would also probably make me run to the closest Crumbs. So maybe scientists (once again, I have no clue if you call people who study this scientists, but I would guess they study the science of something) are on to something.

What do you think? Would you give an “imaginary diet” a try?

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