Replacing craving imagery with alternative pleasant imagery reduces craving intensity

Appetite. 2011 Aug;57(1):173-8. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.04.021. Epub 2011 May 4.


Laboratory studies have shown that asking people to engage in imagery reduces the intensity of laboratory-induced food cravings. This study examined whether the intensity of naturally occurring cravings can be reduced by replacing the craving-related imagery with alternative, pleasant imagery. Participants were instructed to vividly imagine engaging in their favorite activity. They had to apply this imagery technique over a period of four days whenever they felt a craving arising and were asked to keep applying this technique until the craving passed. Compared to baseline, craving intensity and vividness of craving-related imagery were both significantly reduced. Vividness of craving-related imagery fully mediated the effect of the alternative imagery on craving intensity. No effects were found for control conditions in which participants (1) just formed the goal intention to reduce their cravings, (2) formed implementation intentions to reduce their cravings, and (3) engaged in a cognitive task (reciting the alphabet backwards). The findings suggest that vividly imagining a pleasant element can be an effective technique to curb cravings in everyday life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Food Preferences*
  • Humans
  • Imagery, Psychotherapy*
  • Imagination
  • Male
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Visual Perception
  • Young Adult