A Cure for those Endless Food Cravings

How science helps us dodge the devilish treats

Cravings. We all have them. Jasmine Song tries to eat as healthfully as she can, for example, but sometimes the 22-year-old from Potomac, Maryland, must have her heart’s desire. Sweets are her biggest weakness — she goes for brownies, cakes, cookies and chocolate when she allows herself to indulge.

But those cravings can be triggered by something bigger than habit or desire. If you’ve ever skimmed your local paper and seen an ad for donuts, candy or any other indulgence, then found yourself gunning for the nearest source — you’re not alone.

A new study in the journal Brain and Cognition suggests that simply seeing photos of certain foods makes us want them. That temptation at first sight affects us all to some degree.

Researchers at the International School for Advanced Studies in Italy found that pictures of unhealthy foods had an automatic pull on people’s reaching movements, literally drawing their hands closer to the tempting foods whenever possible.

Dr. Francesco Foroni recruited 57 young men and women to draw a line as quickly as possible between two dots. There was a picture of food on one side of the dot and kitchen tools on the other. The participants also rated foods in different categories, such as how much they liked each item or how healthy they thought it was.

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The participants’ lines rarely went from point A to point B in a straight line; usually those lines veered toward the food and the food-related pictures. The more unhealthy a food was perceived — even at a subconscious level — the more likely participants were to steer their lines that way.

As the Science of Us reports, “This new research isn’t the first to show that food has a powerful attention-grabbing effect: We already know that food imagery gives the hungry brain a kick, and that it attracts people’s gaze, especially when it’s highly calorific. But this study takes things further, demonstrating its subconscious influence on people’s actual reaching movements.”

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Pat Barone, a certified professional coach who helps clients work on sustainable, permanent weight loss, said visual images can be very powerful.

“Some people are more susceptible to pictures than others. I call it being on the ‘seefood’ diet. Seeing food almost always leads to eating it. Food marketers know this, of course, and use it to their advantage.”

Barone added, “When I was (in the midst of) losing 92 pounds, one of the keys for me was to end the ‘seefood’ diet. I literally had to train myself NOT to look at pictures in media, magazines, TV, and online. For me and many others, those pictures literally issue a command to eat.”

Experts say the food we look at is usually high in fat and this changes our eating behaviors for the worse. All of the food in front of us — whether it’s online, on the air or in the restaurant we’re passing by — has us constantly hungry and consuming the wrong types of calories.

Barone teaches clients to train themselves away from noticing the images — and to turn away quickly. Fast-forward through commercials featuring food, she advises, and flip those magazine pages fast.

“There are certain ‘trigger’ foods people should simply avoid because they lead to binging or too many calories,” said Barone. “We are in charge of what we buy and store in our own house. Bottom line: Make your environment work for you.”

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