“The study consisted of two experiments. The first experiment included 18 participants who were required to engage in a “distraction paradigm” exercise, which aimed to determine how food diverted attention from a complex computer test.
In the task, food- and non-food-related images appeared on the screen for just 125 milliseconds — which the researchers say is too fast for people to fully comprehend what they have seen but is long enough for their brains to process the visual information.
The food images included pictures of high-fat, high-calorie products — such as chocolate, cheese, candy, and hot dogs — as well as healthful foods, such as carrots and apples.”
The researchers found that all images diverted the subjects’ attention from the computer test. However, the images of the high-fat, calorie-dense foods were found to be twice as distracting as the images of healthful foods and non-food objects.”
This tells us that the subjects’ brains were able to assess the foods’ unhealthy nutritional content and remain fixated on it, even when they were only images (and irrelevant images at that).
According to Medical News Today:
“For the second experiment, the researchers enrolled 18 new subjects. The task was the same as in the first experiment, except that the participants consumed two small candy bars beforehand.
The researchers found that these subjects were no more distracted by the images of high-fat, high-calorie foods than images of healthful foods or non-food images.”
According to the researchers, eating the candy bars beforehand lessened the participants’ cravings for the unhealthy foods. Eating the candy bars beforehand devalued the unhealthy foods, making them less desirable (and thus less distractible to the participants).
So what’s the moral of the story? Don’t go to the grocery store on an empty stomach!
If this study proves anything, it’s that we are more likely to eat bad-for-you food when we have not eaten something recently (and so the perceived value of the sweet treats increase).
If you’re heading to the store, eat a healthy snack or meal beforehand, and bring a grocery list with you. Because your stomach is full, you are less likely to purchase empty-calorie foods, and are more likely to stick to your list.