Craving for chocolates? Imagining a walk in a forest or on a beach may help you cut down the desire for your favourite treats, scientists say.
The research indicates that people can use self-awareness to fight back and even erase chocoholic thoughts which lead to craving for chocolate and hamper a healthy lifestyle.
"If we tackle the issue when it first pops up in your mind - particularly if you are not hungry - then it's much easier than waiting for those cravings to gather force," said Sophie Schumacher, PhD candidate at Flinders University in Australia.
"Learn to nip off these cravings at the bud - by giving yourself a constructive distraction such as imaging a walk in a forest - can help to lower the intrusiveness of the thoughts and vividness of the imagery," said Schumacher.
"We found it was important to target the initial craving thoughts before they become full-blown cravings," she said.
With practice, it could be as easy as creating an automatic distraction for yourself the moment those niggly chocolate cravings start occurring, she added.
With chocolate recognised as one of the top cravings in western society, cravings occur in two distinct stages - the initial intrusive thought (caused by environmental cues, like pictures) and the subsequent elaboration (where vivid imagery of the craving becomes persistent), researchers said.
Researchers tested a theory called elaborate-intrusion theory and whether two techniques known as cognitive defusion and guided imagery can reduce chocolate cravings.
Two test groups of young women were involved - one a general sample and the other a group who wished to cut down on their chocolate cravings.
Cognitive defusion targets the first stage of the craving, or when the thought of chocolate first crops up, and taking the initiative to quickly distance yourself from this craving thought - and see it as something which doesn't necessarily have to be followed by action.
The guided imagery technique targets the second stage of the craving, when we start to imagine having chocolate and what it looks, smells and tastes like - and replacing that with another image, for example, a cool, serene place such as a forest or lonely beach.
"We found that cognitive defusion lowered the intrusiveness of thoughts, vividness of imagery before, and craving intensity for both the general test group, and for those who craved chocolate and wished to eat less chocolate," Schumacher said.
"Becoming more aware of how your thoughts influence your behaviour is a good first step. Bear in mind that thoughts like 'need chocolate' may not be true, and may not need to be acted upon," researchers said.
"When imagining an alternative scene, like a walk in a forest or on a beach, be sure to use different senses - imagine sights, sounds and smells. This can help counter your craving-related imagery," they said.
The study was published in the journal Appetite.
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