The New Frontier of Dieting Is Imagination

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This research fascinates me. Every now and then one of the guys recovering from heavy porn use says something like, "Last night, instead of fantasizing about porn scenarios, I visualized holding a woman. It felt good and I fell asleep easily." It makes sense that if focus on "wanting" revs up dopamine and restlessness, that focus on satiety feelings could help produce soothing neurochemicals related to satiety. That's what this research suggests, to me.

It could indirectly explain the "natural grounding" concept, too, where men view videos of women that are not erotic, and find it very soothing and balancing:

Trouble is, fantasizing to climax is like actually drinking the coke [read article below]. It's likely to set off the body's dopamine roller coaster. Then, during the return to homeostasis, the neurochemical fluctuations can create nasty least in brains that are somewhat dopamine-dysregulated for the moment.

And of course, Internet porn never promotes satiety, because there's always something kinkier around the corner to override any natural feelings of satiety. Moreover, brains starved for dopamine are not able to register normal satiety feelings very well. As researcher Paul Kenny explains:

Too much pleasure skews the brain's reward pathways by overstimulating the D2 receptor and causing it to shut down. For the rats addicted to junk food, the only way to stimulate their pleasure centers was to eat more high-fat, high-calorie food. They're not experiencing rewards the way they should. When you experience that, one way of feeling better is to go back to the junk food.

So there's more to this concept than meets the eye, but visualizing satiety seems very least for those who are already returning to balance.

The New Frontier of Dieting Is Imagination

Picture yourself drinking a cola. Slowly, sip by sip, the carbonated, corn syrup-loaded beverage rushes down your throat. You pause to burp, and tip the can again.

Okay, that’s enough. Now, do you want a cola more or less than you did ten seconds ago? New research published last week in Science argues that the answer is, contrary to conventional wisdom, “less.”

Carey Morewedge and his team at Carnegie Mellon University experimented on subjects who sat next to a full bowl of M&Ms. Experimental groups were divided based on how many M&Ms they were told to “imagine eating.” One group imagined, in as much detail as they could, eating zero, another imagined eating 3, and the last imagined eating 30 M&Ms. The group that was told to imagine eating the largest amount actually ate the least.

This result is a nice, though surprising, example of habituation, which is a decreased mental or physical response to something after being exposed to it for some time (i.e. getting used to the chorus-of-dying-cats noise your radiator makes at night). What’s special about this specific result, though, is that habituation usually refers to actually experiencing a stimulus, whereas in this experiment, the participants only imagined experiencing a stimulus. They didn’t actually eat any M&Ms before they had access to the bowl full of them – nor did they smell, see, or touch them. They only simulated the act in their head:

Repetitively imagining the consumption of the food reduced wanting (the appetitive or motivational drive) for the food. Participants who imagined consuming more of the food subsequently expended less effort to obtain it…the results show that repeatedly simulating an action can trigger its behavioral consequences. Rather than increase the likelihood of enacting the simulated behavior (eating), simulation evoked the consequences of the behavior (habituation). The difference between actual experience and mental representations of experience may be smaller than previously assumed.

More and more neuroscientists are arguing for a rethinking of the power of imagination. Imagining is an impressive mental behavior, and it’s closely tied to the body, as Harvard neuroscientist Stephen Kosslyn has argued:

Mental imagery makes use of much the same neural substrates as perception… imagery, in many ways, can ‘stand in’ for (re-present, if you will) a perceptual stimulus or situation. Imagery not only engages the motor system, but also affects the body, much as can actual perceptual experience.

These results have a lot of cool implications. What if vividly imagining a phobia, say, a spider crawling on your leg, made it less scary in real life? What if imagining the whole act of smoking a cigarette only made you actually smoke half of one? What if imagining yourself cringing at a crappy movie made it more tolerable? Goodbye Atkins diet, hello Think-(About-What-You-Eat-)Before-You-Eat.

I suspect

That this will lead to some interesting diet programs. I myself have been reluctant to go Paleo, but maybe this would help.


Great timing. I didn't get

Great timing. I didn't get around to fasting due to a cold. I bumped into a female who just did a two day fast and we motivated each other to try the three day one I was originally going to do. I'm going to imagine not eating before I eat for a few days as a warm up. I do tend to naturally do this...I'm not sure when that started, but it might come from a lifetime of fasting for religious reasons.

I also sometimes sample. For example, you drink say an once of soda, but imagine drinking more and all the unpleasant feelings that lots of soda leads to. Then you drink soda water with maybe a tad of soda in it. You can do this with food too, but soda is easier if it is coming from a self serve fountain soda. I think this is the idea in part behind drinking a cup of water before drinking or eating. Yes, the water makes you feel less thirsty and a little full, but the mind likely associates that water with the food that is about to come. I recall a study on how soup and other liquid foods trick the mind into thinking one consumed more than they did.

I came across this in regard to bodyworking. It could support imagination adding the needed same element to push us in the other direction no matter which way we are inclined.

"It’s also interesting that sometimes relatively yin people, (quiet, reserved, sensitive) will respond very well to yin treatment styles such as Jin Shin Do®. It seems to add more yin, which they are very receptive to, nudging them into a more yang/ energized state. Whereas outgoing, active and more armored/ yang people often respond well to styles of bodywork like Barefoot Shiatsu. Again adding more yang to them seems to flip them over into a more yin/relaxed state. This is of course a generalization, but is still an energetic phenomenon that is helpful to be aware of."