Sugar—like the ex who won’t stop texting you—has a hold over us. Try as we might to resist it, it still manages to consume our thoughts at the most inopportune moments—while we’re working out, for example, or right after the super-healthy gluten-free lunch we were so proud of ourselves for preparing the night before. At times like these, you can do one of two things: give in to your craving and feel guilty the rest of the day, or get over it. The latter is obviously more desirable but clearly easier said than done—which is where we come in. Ahead, we’re sharing a scientifically backed visualization trick that will help you say “NO!” next time your
ex sugar craving comes calling. Keep scrolling to see what it is!
You may have heard previous advice that the best way to overcome a sugar craving is to visualize eating the opposite—a healthy kale salad, for instance. However, a study from Carnegie Mellon seems to imply the opposite: If you’re trying to eat less of something, it’s helpful to actually envision yourself eating more of it. Paradigm shift, we know. In the study, the researchers divided subjects into three groups. The first group was told to imagine inserting 33 quarters into a laundry machine, the second group was told to imagine inserting 30 quarters into a laundry machine and then imagine eating three M&M's, and the last group was told to imagine inserting three quarters into a laundry machine and eating 30 M&M's. Afterward, all the groups were given access to a bowl of actual M&M's and told to help themselves. (The researchers told the subjects that the study was about imagery and size perception so they wouldn’t be overly conscious about their eating habits.)
The result? Those who imagined eating 30 M&M's ate significantly fewer M&M's than those who had imagined eating three or no M&M's. “To some extent, merely imagining an experience is a substitute for actual experience,” said Joachim Vosgerau, who was part of the research team that conducted the study. “The difference between imagining and experiencing may be smaller than previously assumed.”
I decided to try out this trick and apply it next time a sugar craving hit—and was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked. At the time, I was sitting at my desk and overcome with a strong urge for something sweet after consuming my lunch (a veggie bánh mì wrap). Normally, I would rummage around in my desk in hopes of finding something to satiate my sweet tooth (the previous results of which have ranged from chocolate to coconut-flavored cotton candy), but this time, I closed my eyes and imagined myself eating 30 pieces of chocolate, one by one. First of all—this is much harder and more time-consuming than it sounds. Around the time I was visualizing eating my 10th piece of chocolate, my mind started to wander. I had to switch up the type of chocolate I was picturing myself eating just to keep my mind focused, but that may just because I’m generally easily distracted. I found my craving less pronounced by the 15th piece of chocolate, and by the time I was envisioning myself eating the 20th piece, I more or less just stopped because I actually felt myself getting fuller. That and the fact that picturing myself eating each piece of chocolate—from breaking it off of the bar to actually consuming it—was fairly exhausting mentally.
It’s important to note that you need to actually visualize yourself eating whatever sweet treat you are eating—not just the food itself. Like Vosgreau said, doing so can replace the actual experience and help you either eat less of it when you actually do eat it, or not eat it at all.
Keep scrolling for some other ways to visualize your way out of a sugar craving!
Here are some other visualization methods that can help you overcome your craving:
1. Visualize something that relaxes you: A lot of times, sugar cravings stem from triggers like boredom, loneliness, or anxiety. If that’s the case, take a moment to close your eyes and visualize something that relaxes you or makes you happy to counteract these negative feelings.
2. Plan ahead: If you know your sugar cravings always hit around, say, the afternoon, try to plan out what you eat before then in preparation for it. Our editor banished her sugar cravings with cereal.
3. Try “urge surfing”: This is a technique that can be applied to any intense cravings, whatever your vices may be. The idea is that instead of trying to push the craving out of your mind, let it wash over you like a wave, and imagine yourself “surfing” it. Picture yourself riding the wave and coming out safe on the other side. It sounds strange, but it works. You can read more about the exact technique here.
Keep scrolling to shop three sugar-free cookbooks so you can indulge without the guilt.