The “smartphone diet”, or how looking at pictures of food decreases appetite

Near-constant exposure to photos of food was thought to stimulate appetite and encourage consumption. A new study shows the opposite, provided you look at the same photo about 30 times.

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Viewing food in photos could be the basis of a new therapy to control appetite (in the sense of reducing it) and therefore lose weight in the long term. The strategy is a little simplistic, but deserves consideration as appetite is difficult to control for people wishing to lose weight. The number of overweight or obese people is increasing around the world and scientists are looking for solutions to this great health challenge.

The imagined diet impacts consumption

However, social media is “overflowing” with food and this content inevitably affects us in one way or another. ” At the time of writing, around 490 million Instagram posts were tagged with “food” “, indicate the authors of a new study published in the journal Appetite. A recent large meta-analysis concluded that visual exposure to food can stimulate and influence eating behavior to the same extent as real food. More precisely, we thought until then that this exhibition tended to arouse our hunger. But this has been challenged by other recent research stipulating that repeated “consumption” of imagined foods can, on the contrary, facilitate satiety and decrease food intake.

The new study from the University of Aarhus (Denmark) starts from this observation and also examines the number of repetitions necessary to feel satiated and the question of whether the variation of the images erases the feeling of satiety. The researchers conducted three online experiments that brought in more than 1,000 participants.

For the first test, Internet users looked at a photo of orange M&Ms, either three times, or thirty times. The group most exposed to images of M&Ms had less desire to consume them afterwards than the other group. The test was repeated with the same confectionery but with all the colors (the tastes are similar), which did not change the results. Finally, in a final test, the researchers replaced the M&Ms with Skittles, which tasted differently depending on the color. ” We didn’t find a major effect here either. This suggests that parameters other than color and flavor need to be changed before we can observe an effect on satiety. says co-author Tjark Andersen, who defended his PhD at the Department of Food Science at Aarhus University.

grounded cognition theory

How to explain that the brain is so easily deceived by an imagined diet? Appetite is strongly linked to the cognitive perception of food, what scientists call “grounded cognition”. According to this theory, the same areas of the brain are stimulated whether you imagine eating a candy or actually eating it. ” You will receive a physiological response to something you only imagined. That’s why we can feel fully satisfied without having eaten anything says Tjark Andersen. A new way to lose weight?

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