Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh asked volunteers to spend a minute and a half imagining methodically chewing and swallowing 30 M&M candies, one after another.
When then presented with a bowl of M&Ms, those volunteers ate about half as many candies as volunteers who imagined eating only three M&Ms, or none at all, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
Just thinking about a food can help sate hunger through a process called habituation, the researchers said.
Habituation is the psychological phenomenon in which we become used to things, as extended exposure to a stimulus decreases our response to it, and many experts think it helps regulate eating.
The study goes against the conventional wisdom that thinking about a food makes you eat more of it, study leader Carey Morewedge, a professor of social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon, said.
"Thought suppression tends to sensitize people to craving," he said. "A better way to deal with cravings might be to imagine indulging them."
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