Hungry? Have a delicious photo

3 minute read

Apparently just looking at images of food can satisfy your hunger. Tell that to my cat at 5.30am.

Ah, the Danish. The only nationality in the world whose very name evokes deliciousness.

Apart from Turkey, of course. And Chile. Let’s not even talk about Hamburg, Frankfurt and Bologna. And, apparently, there’s a town in Florida called Spuds.

If there was a place called Pineapple Upside Down Cake, I would move there instantly.

Focus, Cate, focus.

Danish (*drool*) researchers have discovered that “imagined eating” – quite literally, looking at pictures of appetising food – can satisfy your hunger.

Advertising gurus might find this hard to believe – after all, the whole basis of their industry is “show ’em a pic of something and they’ll want to buy it” – but the science says otherwise.

The research out of Aarhus University found that images of food can have the opposite effect. But only if we see pictures of the same product repeatedly.

“In our experiments, we showed that when the participants saw the same food picture 30 times, they felt more satiated than before they had seen the picture,” said lead researcher Tjark Andersen.

“The participants who were shown the picture many times also chose a smaller portion than those who had only seen the picture three times, when we subsequently asked about the size of portion they wanted.

“Your appetite is more closely linked with your cognitive perception than most of us think. How we think about our food is very important.

“Studies have shown that if you make people aware of different colours of jellybeans, even if they have eaten all they can in red jellybeans, will still want the yellow ones. Even if both colours taste completely the same.”

It’s called “grounded cognition theory”. If you imagine putting your teeth in a juicy apple, the same areas of the brain are stimulated as if you actually take a bite of an apple.

“You will receive a physiological response to something you have only thought about. That’s why we can feel fully satisfied without eating anything,” said Mr Andersen.

The researchers’ target food of choice was orange M&Ms. Some participants were shown the picture three times, others 30 times. The group that saw most pictures felt most satiated afterwards.

“They had to answer how many M&Ms between one and 10 they wanted. The group which had seen 30 images of orange chocolate buttons, chose a smaller amount than the other two groups,” said Mr Andersen.

They then repeated the experiment using different coloured M&Ms, which did not change the result.

Finally, they replaced the M&Ms with Skittles, which, unlike M&Ss, taste different depending on the colour.

“If colour didn’t play a role, it must be the imagined taste. But we found no major effect here either. This suggests that more parameters than just colour and flavour have to change before we can effect satiety.”

Mr Andersen believes the development of an app which shows you images of the food of your choice might be useful for controlling appetite in an ever more obese world.

That’s it from me. I’m off to lick a photo of a bacon butty.

Sending story tips to will satiate your soul.

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