(CBS) Dieters often try to avoid thinking about the foods they crave, but maybe that's the wrong approach.
Imagining yourself biting into a luscious piece of chocolate cake - thinking about the way it smells, the creamy texture of frosting on your tongue - may make you eat less of it, a new study suggests.
This finding challenges age-old conventional wisdom that tells us thinking about goodies increases our cravings and ultimately our consumption, according to a study from Carnegie Mellon.
Drawing on research that shows mental imagery and perception affect emotion and behavior, the research team - led by assistant professor of social and decision sciences Carey Morewedge - found that repeatedly imagining indulging in a treat decreases ones desire for it.
"These findings suggest that trying to suppress one's thoughts of desired foods in order to curb cravings for those foods is a fundamentally flawed strategy," Morewedge said in a statement.
The researchers conducted five experiments in which 51 people were asked to imagine themselves doing a series of repetitive actions - including, in one experiment, eating different amounts of M&Ms. A control group imagined putting coins into a washing machine.
Subjects were then invited to eat their fill of M&Ms. Those who had imagined eating the most ultimately ate fewer candies than the others. Subsequent experiments confirmed the results.
The researchers say their results, which were published in the December 10 issue of Science, could have wide-ranging effects.
Says Morewedge: "We think these findings will help develop future interventions to reduce cravings for things such as unhealthy food, drugs and cigarettes, and hope they will help us learn how to help people make healthier food choices."
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