When you make your own sandwich, you anticipate its taste as you’re working on it. And when you think of a particular food for a while, you become less hungry for it later. It’s a kind of specific satiation, just as most people find room for dessert when they couldn’t have another bite of their steak. The sandwich that another person prepares is not “preconsumed” in the same way.
At first blush, this explanation seems counter-intuitive. Studies have shown that picturing yourself eating a food you enjoy (perhaps chocolate) induces an increase in saliva and the desire to eat it. Similarly, imagining the smell of a cigarette increases cravings in smokers. So why doesn’t making a sandwich improve the taste?
Carnegie Mellon University researchers believe the answer lies in the fact that extended exposure to a stimulus (the sandwich) decreases the physiological and behavioral responses (wanting to eat it). In other words, seeing the sandwich get made over time makes it feel less novel and thus less desirable. A similar phenomena works with repeated exposure to the same food: a fifth bite of chocolate is less desirable than the first.
In a series of five experiments, the CMU researchers showed the more often people imagined eating a food, the less likely they were to eat it later. In addition, people who repeatedly imagined eating a specific food ate less of that food than people who repeatedly imagined eating a different food. According to the research, they ate less because they felt less hungry, not because they thought the food was less appetizing.
This is an extraordinary compelling idea. We will likely eat less if we make our own food and imagine eating it several times beforehand. Maybe we could call it the Daydream Diet.
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