To Keep to Your Diet, Pretend You're Constantly Breaking It

By Veronique Greenwood | June 6, 2011 2:26 pm

Is this milkshake better than yours?

Congratulating yourself on that calorie-conscious salad might just make you feel hungrier, scientists are now finding—better to close your eyes, take a bite, and pretend you’re eating ice cream.

We’ve already heard in recent years that eating imaginary M&Ms or cheese cubes can give you some of the satiety of the real thing: In a 2010 paper, researchers found that contrary to popular belief, imagining eating such foods in vivid detail actually made subjects eat fewer M&Ms, cheese chunks, and so on. Now, scientists have found that if you believe a shake is low in calories, you’ll feel less satisfied than people who think the shake was an indulgence, even when you’re both drinking the same shake. What gives?

The team (from Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity) told subjects that a 380-calorie shake had either an indulgent 620 calories or a prudent 140 calories. Then they checked to see what effect that had on subjects’ blood levels of ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger and is high before meals and low after. They found that ghrelin didn’t subside afterwards in people who thought they were having a virtuous drink, while it dropped through the floor in people who thought they’d had a treat. The subjects’ reports of how satisfied they felt supported this split.

What’s going through your head when you eat, then, has a direct effect on your biochemistry. It definitely suggests some new approaches to dieting, like berating yourself for eating celery sticks in an effort to make them seem more luxurious and satisfying. But it’s not clear if lying to yourself is as effective as having other people lie to you. And believing that you are constantly eating poorly might have other psychological side effects, one supposes.

Besides: how satisfying is your life overall if you spend all your time eating imaginary candy in an effort to avoid the real thing?

(via New Scientist)

Image credit: rick/flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food, Nutrition, & More Food
  • shadegem

    I always found things like 100 calorie packs to be a bit stupid, mainly because one will want to eat more since s/he doesn’t think s/he’s getting enough or isn’t satisfied. Moderation and hearty foods is the way to go. If you’re eating something hearty, you’ll think to eat less b/c it feels like it’s filling you up; compared to some diet-made meal that’s mostly air and tastes a bit bland. Not saying there aren’t diets out there that don’t work or taste good, but a lot of dietary food I’ve seen/tasted just makes me shake my head. But take some of that and give it a less bland flavor or a more savory appearance w/o affecting the nutritional value very much and the “lie” will lead to a more healthy and happy lifestyle. So I’m not too surprised on the effect of lying to oneself.

  • Joanne

    The reason people eat so much bad food is that sugar is addictive. There’s so much sugar everywhere.. it’s hard to drastically drop off. Lower your intake slowly and replace it with Stevia and our body will not want sugar as much. I eat no sugar and barely ever crave sweets. I mean this, by “barely ever” I mean I never buy cookies or candies, can walk past them in the store and not even notice them, and friends can offer me cakes and cookies all day and I just don’t want it. IF I eat anything with sugar ,it’s one cookie and I feel satisfied. If you ever do “crave” something sweet there are so many low calorie NO SUGAR options. Teas with stevia, sugar-free cakes, ect. The trick is, DO NOT EAT SUGAR AT ALL. It will only start the whole “addiction” all over again.

  • fintin

    I gotta try this!

  • shadegem

    @2 sugar isn’t always a bad thing. Maybe its my German side talking…
    In any case, I would rather have real sugar, which actually isn’t extremely addicting, rather than the fake sugars companies produce that are up to 1000 times sweeter than natural sugar and come with a lot more side-effects, such as that craving. That’s one of the reason I don’t drink diet sodas. Seriously though, for those who love to drink soda, try something that uses real sugar, like a throwback (no advertising intended) and notice that you’ll most likely not have as much of a craving for a second can. Or just bake your own sweets and taste the difference.

  • Elizabeth

    Interesting. My best diet trick has always been to tell myself I’m eating a full serving of something, but to only fix myself a partial portion. For example, I just ate a 130 calorie snack of Annie’s graham bunnies that are 30 bunnies per serving. But I only fixed myself 15 bunnies and counted it as a full serving. I do the same with cereal in the morning. Actual serving is 1 cup, but I fix myself 3/4 cup and tell myself I had the whole thing. It works well for me and fits in with this research.

  • Ryan

    I don’t look down on fat people, but I do look down on people who bitch and moan and pat themselves on the back regarding losing weight. It’s one of the easier achievements in life (if you can even call it an achievement). All you have to do is not eat junk, eat only when you’re hungry, and when you do eat, eat only enough to satiate yourself. If you want to get in really good shape, then adopting a persistent mindset of “do I really need to eat this? / is this the best thing I could be eating right now?” coupled with 30 minutes of hard aerobic exercise every day works. Yes, eating delicious food all the time and being in good shape are probably a little mutually exclusive without lots of strenuous exercise. If you can’t give up the taste at any meal, then, you know what? Get comfortable with being fat!


    I agree it is the addictive sugar


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