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Food for Thought

December 20, 2010

Note: Learn more about the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program here or at www.amihungry.com.

 

I recently read an article in The New York Times about the idea of an “imaginary diet”. The article suggests that people can get the satisfaction of eating a certain food if they just imagine eating it for a while, bite – by – bite. The imaginary eating must be done slowly, but studies have shown that if people focus on the imagined eating for a while, when they actually eat that food, they will eat less of it. But it has to be done separately for each type of food (for instance, imagining eating chocolate won’t stop you from eating lots of potato chips), and I’m not sure if you would have to repeat this process each time you were going to eat something, or at least periodically.

When I read this, my first thought was, “What a lot of work.” Consider – for every food that might be a weakness for you, you need to imagine eating it a tiny bit at a time before you can actually eat it. I don’t know how long it would take to get to the “satiation” point for each one, but it seems like it might be a while. And then there’s still the time to eat the actual food, when eventually you get to it. If you have to repeat the process, that just seems like an enormous amount of mental energy.

What I like about the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program (and my own method of weight loss) is that it doesn’t require that you spend all your time thinking about food. In fact, quite the opposite. I know for myself that if I’m comfortably full, I don’t think about food. I can go about the rest of my life and focus on those areas, not worry about how much of something I might eat or might have eaten. The times that I’m focused on food are when I’m preparing or eating it or actually physically hungry for it.

I will freely admit that it takes some effort to get to this point, too, to be in tune enough with your body and emotions to recognize why you’re eating when you are, and to use physical cues of hunger to know when to eat and when to stop. But the good news is, it becomes easier over time, and ultimately, I believe it’s a healthier approach than trying to trick your mind and/or body into thinking it’s already eaten something. For me, it’s all about being mindful and attentive to what’s going on in reality, not imagination. Plus, I’ve found that the sorts of foods I want to eat have naturally changed, so that a bag of potato chips, or a plate of brownies, might be appealing but not enough to eat to excess.

Not that I want to denigrate the power of imagination, because it can certainly be extremely powerful. When you mentally practice a skill, it often applies to the skill in reality, for instance. But for me, when it comes to food, I’ll take the real thing over imaginary any day.

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