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Anyone who loves chocolate knows how hard it can be to resist. Even just thinking about it can make it impossible to ignore until the craving is satiated. Fortunately, recent studies suggest that mindfulness could play a roll fighting those chocolate urges. Researchers from Flinders University in Australia have revealed how cognitive delusion and guided imagery was used to lower the desire among young women craving the indulgent treat.

Sophie Schumacher, of the School of Psychology at Flinders, and her colleagues recently reported their findings in the journal Appetite. Chocolate is undoubtedly one of the nation’s favorite foods, with US citizens consuming around 2.8 million pounds of chocolate per year (that’s the equivalent of approximately 12 pounds per person.)

Some studies have shown that when eaten in moderation, chocolate can be beneficial for health, such as improving cognitive function and heart health. However, chocolate is high in fats and sugars which can induce obesity and other related conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease if consumed in unhealthy proportions.

Schumacher and her colleagues explored what she dubs the ‘elaborated-intrusion theory of desire.’ The theory suggests that initial thoughts about a desirable object (in this case, chocolate) are amplified by a person’s mental imagery or perception of it. All this considered, the team set to work conducting an experiment among groups of 94 and 97 young women wishing to reduce their chocolate cravings.

The researchers hypothesized that targeting desirable thoughts and mental images of chocolate might help reduce cravings. In the experiments, participants were randomly selected to receive cognitive diffusion, guided imagery or a mind-wandering control condition. Cognitive diffusion is when the initial thoughts of something desirable are diverted away from that particular object, and enabling the person to realize that they do not need to follow up on that particular object by taking action towards obtaining it.

Guided imagery targets the second stage of craving when a person begins to imagine what it’s like to eat, smell and taste chocolate, replacing these thoughts with unrelated imagery, for example that of a beach or forest.

The team then compared the occurrence of chocolate-related thoughts before and after each intervention, the intensity of cravings, vividness of imagery and chocolate consumption between both groups. Their findings were that cognitive diffusion reduced intrusive thoughts, vividness of imagery and craving intensity in both groups, whereas guided imagery reduced chocolate-related thoughts, intrusiveness, vividness of imagery and craving intensity for chocolate lovers only. 

Despite the consumption of chocolate not differing greatly between the two groups, the researchers feel their findings illustrate how applying self-awareness can help reduce chocolate consumption caused by cravings. According to Schumacher; “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. Learn[ing] 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. We found it was important to target the initial craving thoughts before they become full-blown cravings.”

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