THE BLOG
09/06/2014 01:56 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Food Fantasies Can Be Fattening

Do you ever have food fantasies? Do you know what I mean by a food fantasy? Perhaps just reading those two words together your mind started to wander. A food fantasy is when we start thinking about a particular food. We start picturing it in all it's glory. We might even play heavenly music in our heads that goes along with this image of the beloved food, and then we might even start salivating. Are you with me?

In his new book "Slim by Design," out this month via Harper Collins, Dr. Brian Wansink compiles many of his experiments on why we eat what we do for us to learn more about our eating behavior. Dr. Wansink is the head of the Food and Brand lab at Cornell University and the leading expert on eating behavior. He gets hired all over the world to help people, schools, businesses, even countries (Denmark in particular) to mindlessly make healthier eating choices.

In the book, he describes how we order something at a restaurant. His good friend is a menu designer. I didn't even know there was such a job as "menu designer," but it makes sense that there would be. The menu is advertising, and there are tricks to get people to order certain things. Wansink describes what happens when we sit down at a restaurant and look at the menu. First we look at the top left and then zig zag down the pages. When something catches our eye, we read the description. Ever notice the descriptions of foods on menus and in commercials? You'll find words like: juicy, tender, succulent, flavorful, creamy, buttery, drizzled with and my favorite a "dollop" of whipped cream. A dollop?
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Anyway, we read the description and start imagining, or fantasizing, about how it will taste. This is a food fantasy and it's often why we are drawn to eat something we might be better off not eating.

Many things can trigger a food fantasy. You might see a particular food. The see food diet. If you see this food in an ad it will be an airbrushed, romanticized version of that food. Did you know there are "food stylists"? Their job is to make food look insanely great for ads. I once had a friend who was in a commercial for a big burger joint and he told me they put lacquer on the bun to make it glisten in the light. Yum!
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So seeing food is a trigger that is unavoidable. According to Wansink we are prompted to eat thousands of calories each day just based on the advertising we are exposed to.

Then there is the seductive smell of food. I have often wondered how Cinnabon figured out how to fill the entire mall with the smell of fresh baked cinnamon rolls. It's genius. So we smell a food and start to fantasize. One of my clients mentioned walking into a bakery and trying to figure out exactly what smelled that good and ordering it. But she could never quite get that one thing.

And then habit can kick in to start us fantasizing. Perhaps you are having a bad day and want to escape and suddenly, seemingly from no where, the thought of a hot fudge sundae pops into your head. Did you know that as soon as we start fantasizing about the food our brain begins to release dopamine. It makes us happy.

Just like with many other things in life, the fantasy is often way better than the reality of chewing that food. The foreplay is much more exciting than the actual event.

1) Be aware that you are fantasizing about the food. Awareness is key.

2) See if you can identify what started you fantasizing. Was it something internal or external? If you identify it as external, like you saw an ad for example, then someone else is wanting you to eat that thing. You are being manipulated. If it's internal figure out what it is and see, assuming you're not hungry, what is really going on. You might be able to make a different choice that way.

3) Play out the scene. What I mean by that is imagine you get that food and then imagine yourself eating it. Now you're done. How do you feel? How long did it take to eat? Was it worth it?

If you can do those three easy steps next time you are having a food fantasy, you might just be able to defeat it.

That's it for now. Good luck and let me know how you're doing!