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Wales Online
Wales Online
Alice Clifford & Daniel Smith

You could lose weight by just looking at pictures of food instead of eating it

Just looking at pictures of food online is enough to make us feel fuller - and could be used to help treat overeating, suggests a new study. Scientists believe they could develop an app which allows hungry people to see pictures of what they are craving in a bid to stop them gorging themselves.

Experiments revealed that our hunger can be diminished by seeing the same image of food over 30 times. Study author Tjark Andersen, a PhD student of food science at Aarhus University in Denmark, said: "In our experiments, we showed that when the participants saw the same food picture 30 times, they felt more satiated than before they had seen the picture.

“The participants who were shown the picture many times also chose a smaller portion than those who had only seen the picture three times, when we subsequently asked about the size of portion they wanted.”

The team examined how many repetitions are needed and whether variation in the images removes the sense of satisfaction. Mr Andersen added: "We know from previous studies that images of different types of food don’t have the same effect on satiety.

“That’s why you can really feel full after the main course but still have room for dessert. Sweet things are a completely different type of food.”

The researchers designed several online experiments that over 1,000 people took part in. First they showed a picture of just orange M&Ms. Some participants were shown the picture three times while others were shown it 30 times.

The group that saw the most pictures of the M&M felt most satisfied afterwards. Mr Andersen said: “They had to answer how many M&Ms between one and 10 they wanted. The group which had seen 30 images of orange chocolate buttons, chose a smaller amount than the other two groups.”

They then repeated the experiment. This time with M&Ms in different colours, but the colours did not change the result. Finally, they replaced the M&Ms with Skittles. Unlike M&Ms, Skittles taste differently depending on the colour. But they did not see a difference depending on how they tasted either.

Mr Andersen explained: “If colour didn’t play a role, it must be the imagined taste. But we found no major effect here either. This suggests that more parameters than just colour and flavour have to change before we can make an effect on satiety.”

Since 1975, the number of overweight people worldwide has tripled. According to the World Health Organisation, obesity is one of the biggest health challenges facing humans.

One of the main reasons for this is that people eat too much unhealthy food and do not do enough exercise. This is where these results could come into play, as they could be applied as a method to control appetite.

Mr Andersen said: “Think if you developed an app based on a Google search. Let's say you wanted pizza. You open the app. Choose pizza - and it shows a lot of photos of pizza while you imagine eating it. In this way, you could get a sense of satiety and maybe just stop wanting pizza.”

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With this insight, the results could maybe best be used to ensure that people don’t start a meal. The participants in the study only chose slightly fewer Skittles or M&Ms, corresponding to less than 50 calories, not making a huge health difference.

Mr Andersen added: “You won’t save many calories unless you completely refrain from starting a meal. But perhaps the method can be used for this as well. It’d be interesting to investigate.” Numerous researchers are continuing to study how food adverts on social media affects people, as we are constantly being confronted with delicious food.

A few years ago, an American research group tried to find out how many food adverts people see on average when scrolling on social media. The researchers monitored a number of young people and mapped out the content they met.

On average, they saw just over six food-related posts in 12 hours. The vast majority of the posts were pictures of food and more than a third were about desserts or other sweet food.

The internet and, in particular, social media can be a contributory factor in people becoming increasingly overweight but it may also be the solution. The study was published in the journal Appetite.

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