You’ve heard of eating smaller meals, cutting out sugar, and taking regular walks to help shed extra pounds.
But now scientists say that just looking at pictures of the food you crave could help suppress your appetite and spur weight loss.
Researchers in Denmark found that people who looked at 30 images of an M&M for at least two seconds per image and ‘vividly’ imagined eating the candy felt fuller and wanted to eat less afterwards.
They were compared to an equal group of people who were shown pictures of the same food just three times.
The scientists suggested that the action stimulated an area of the brain related to appetite and made someone feel like they had already consumed the food. increase the feeling of satiety.
The images above are from the first experiment. The first image is a picture of the orange M&M that was shown to the participants. They had to view this image for at least two seconds each three or 30 times. After the experiment, participants were shown images of bowls containing one to 10 M&Ms (the second and third images show bowls containing one or ten M&Ms) and asked to choose one to represent how many M&Ms they wanted. The results showed that participants felt more satisfied and wanted less M&Ms if they viewed the images 30 times.
To vary the experiment, participants were shown images of different colored M&Ms (upper left image) and, for a sweeter taste response, different colored Skittles (lower left). After viewing these images three or 30 times, they were again shown the M&M bowls or, on line three, Skittles, and asked to choose how many they wanted from one to ten. The results of these experiments were in agreement with those of the first experiment.
PhD student Tjark Anderson, a food scientist at the university who led the research, said: “In our experiment, we showed that when participants viewed the same food image 30 times, they felt more satisfied than before they had seen the image. “.
He added: ‘You’ll get a physiological response to something you’ve only thought about.
‘That is why we can feel completely satisfied without eating anything.’
In the study, published in the journal Appetitethe researchers recruited more than 1,000 people who were divided into three groups for separate experiments.
In the first experiment, participants were shown a picture of an orange M&M three or 30 times.
They had to look at each image for at least two seconds while ‘vividly imagining’ eating the food.
Participants were then asked how full they felt and how many M&Ms they would like to consume.
The results showed that those who viewed the images just three times were significantly more likely to say they wanted to eat an M&M than those who viewed the images 30 times.
They also ordered more M&Ms, with an average of 6.2 out of 10 possible, compared to an average of 5.7 in the group that viewed the image the most.
In the second part of the study, the scientists replayed the images of the M&Ms three or 30 times, but this time they varied the color of the candy.
This was to test whether seeing separate colors changed the brain’s response to the food stimulus.
But the scientists found no difference with the former, and the results showed that people who only viewed the images three times felt less satiated and wanted more M&Ms.
In the third arm, the M&Ms were replaced with multi-colored Skittles because they taste different based on color and have a sweet taste.
But the results were still the same as in the previous experiment.
Discussing the results, Mr Andersen said: “If color didn’t play a role, it must be an imagined taste. [we thought]. but we didn’t find any significant effect here either.’
The experts suggested that looking at pictures of food stimulated areas of the brain related to satiety or feeling full, leading to decreased appetite. This is called the theory of grounded cognition.
Previous research has also suggested that repeatedly viewing an image of something can lead to habituation or a weakened response, resulting in decreased interest in the item.
He has also suggested that viewing images of food could be seen as a form of gratification, or temporarily satisfying someone’s desire to eat.
The researchers suggested that people looking to lose weight could be repeatedly shown photos of food to help suppress appetite.
Andersen said an app could be developed to help suppress cravings.
“Think about whether you developed an app based on a Google search,” he said.
‘Let’s say you want pizza. You open the app. Choose pizza, and it shows you a bunch of pizza photos as you imagine yourself eating it.
“This way, you could get a feeling of fullness and maybe stop wanting pizza.”
The average person saw about 6.1 food-related posts every 12 hours while using social media, according to a 2016 study.