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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Have it Your Way: The Imagination Diet

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Feb 10th 2011

Ok, here’s an experiment. Prior to eating your next meal, sit down in front of it and imagine eating it for a while. Get a sense of the motion of your utensil (if you use one) dipping into the food, your hand moving the food to your mouth and the taste as you actually chew it. Really taste the food in your mind, this may just be an effective tool for losing weight.

donutSo many diets try and suppress or distract thoughts away from eating food or just try and instill the will for portion control. But what if with a simple exercise we could trick our minds into thinking we don’t need to eat as much of what’s in front of us?

That’s exactly the experiment that Carey Morewedge, an experimental psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and her colleagues conducted. They put a group of 51 undergraduates in front of M&Ms. One group imagined eating 30 M&Ms and then putting 3 quarters in a laundry machine, while the other group did the exact opposite putting 30 quarters in the laundry machine and eating 3 M&Ms.

What happened?

When asked to dig into the M&Ms after, the group that imagined eating the 30 M&Ms only ate 3 M&Ms and the other group ate 5. This was reported in the December issue of Science.

They then did another investigation to see if imagery was connected with specific foods. For example, they had participants imagine eating cheese cubes versus M&Ms. What they found was that the specific imagery was directly connected with the food. Those who imagined eating the M&Ms ate the same amount of cheese and less M&Ms.

The great thing is, they also found that it actually doesn’t diminish our perceived enjoyment of the food.

This would be a wonderful practice to play with if you have any difficulties with portion control when you eat. Simply take a minute or two to imagine yourself eating the food in front of you; really use all your senses in your imagination. Then see how you feel as you eat, do you eat less, do you eat the same?

If you eat with other people, like family or roommates, see if you can rope them into doing this with you. Maybe you do it for a night, maybe a week long experiment or perhaps make it a tradition at your meals.

More than anything, be playful with it, not taking it too seriously, just see how it goes.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.


Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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