Imagine Eating to Lose Weight (and Save Money)
Ready for what may be the cheapest and least time-consuming weight-loss technique of all time?
Imagine eating a lot of a certain food, and you’re likely to eat less of it.
In a new study published in Science magazine, researchers discovered that when a person visualizes himself eating a lot of a certain food, he will then consume less of it. (See also: Small, Cheap Steps to Weight Loss)
Here’s what the researchers did:
“To investigate, Morewedge and colleagues Young Eun Huh and Joachim Vosgerau fed M&Ms and cheese cubes to 51 undergraduate students. In one experiment, the participants first imagined performing 33 repetitive motions: Half of them imagined eating 30 M&Ms and inserting three quarters into the slot of a laundry machine. The other half envisioned eating three M&Ms and inserting 30 quarters. Then everyone was allowed to eat their fill from a bowl of M&Ms. Those who'd envisioned eating more candy ate about three M&Ms on average (or about 2.2 grams), whereas the others ate about five M&Ms (or about 4.2 grams), the researchers report in the 10 December issue of Science.” (Emphasis added.)
This stems from the psychological principle of habituation, where there is a decrease in response after repeated exposure to something.
So while imagining a food normally makes you crave it, the opposite is true when you specifically visualize eating that food bite by bite until you imagine consuming the entire thing. This is similar to the idea of mindful eating that Michael Pollan writes about in his books In Defense of Food and Food Rules. In describing how to not eat too much he advises:
Pay more, eat less.
Do all of your eating at a table.
Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.
Try not to eat alone.
Consult your gut.
All of these ideas encourage conscious eating. That is, actually thinking about and enjoying the food you're eating. This is similar to habituation because you are actively thinking about your food choices, but you're thinking about what you're eating while you're eating it, not before.
And besides losing weight, eating less can also help you save money.
Let's say you actually use these visualization techniques and successfully eat less food. How much money would you save by eating less? Putting aside health care or other difficult-to-quantify costs, here are some numbers:
If you typically spend an average of $350 each month on food and are able to reduce your consumption by 5%, you would save $17.50 each month. This isn't a lot, but say you put this into a 6% investment. In 35 years, this would be a savings of approximately $24,000.
So next time you are trying to eat less or lose weight, instead of spending money on diet programs and books, try visualizing eating your meal before you actually eat it.
I wonder if this same principle would also apply to personal finance issues such as reducing consumption behaviors like overspending or compulsive shopping. Thoughts?
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