The trick is called the Salty Sweet Visualization Exercise, and here’s how Moalem describes it in the book:
If you just can’t stop yourself from eating one more doughnut, imagine sprinkling a tablespoon of coarse iodized salt (I’m not talking about delicious, flaky fleur de sel) on it and imagine what it would be like to take bite after bite, swallow after swallow of the "pinch your tongue" super-saltiness. Do this visualization when the urge to consume the sweet stuff comes up, and you’ll have some serious problems just thinking about having a taste.
Moalem speaks from experience. “The first time I tried it, I was at dinner at a friend’s house, and they had made homemade doughnuts topped with Nutella for dessert,” he remembers. “I did the visualization with the salt shaker, imagined unscrewing the top, dumping it on the doughnut and taking a bite, and it immediately elicited a little bit of a gag reflex. I don’t think I could have eaten one if I were forced to.” We had a similar wow-that-actually-worked moment one afternoon when chocolate chip cookies were calling our name.
The reason the trick works is because even though most of us like salty foods, humans have a natural aversion to overly salted eats (think so much salt that your face contorts like you just ate something bitter). That may be because extremely salty or bitter foods signaled danger for our ancestors, as those foods were more likely to be poisonous, says Moalem, a neurogeneticist and evolutionary biologist by trade. Just thinking about what a cookie covered in salt would taste like is enough to make you turn away. It’s not limited to sweets either–the trick should work with whatever type of food you’re trying to cut back on, like any and all kinds of cheese (just us?).
For really hard-to-break cravings, you can even take it to the next level and actually pour salt on the food in question and take a bite (Moalem did it to cure his ice cream addiction and says it did the trick.) Once you take a bite of that now disgustingly salty treat, your brain will remember how much you disliked it. So the next time visions of candy, ice cream, cookies or whatever food floats your boat start dancing through your head, you’ll be a lot less likely to give in to the craving.
Salty Sweet Visualization Exercise reprinted from The DNA Restart by Sharon Moalem, MD, PhD. Copyright © 2016 by Sharon Moalem, MD, PhD. By permission of Rodale Books.