This simulation technique might also help reduce cravings for unhealthy foods and drugs, the authors say.
However, at least one expert had reservations about the findings.
"This small study may offer insights for further research, but the message is not that we can think ourselves thin or reduce food cravings by repeatedly imagining eating a certain food," said Samantha Heller, clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn.
It was not in the scope of the study to examine how long the effect described lasted, but it is important to consider, she said. Was it five minutes? Two days? Were the participants hungry during one part of the study but not during another arm of the experiment? And were they normal weight, overweight or underweight, she asked.
"All these factors, and many more, could affect how someone responds to repeatedly imagining eating a certain food," Heller said.
Overweight or obese people may have very different psychological and biochemical responses to this simulation approach compared with normal-weight individuals, she noted.
"Food cravings are a complex mix of physiological, psychological, environmental and hormonal aspects," Heller added.
"Adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as eating vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains, and exercising, may help reduce the strength and frequency of food cravings," she added.
For more information on losing weight, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Carey Morewedge, Ph.D., assistant professor, social and decision sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh; Samantha Heller, M.S., R.D., dietitian, nutritionist, exercise physiologist and clinical nutrition coordinator, Center for Cancer Care, Griffin Hosp
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