Radio National’s First Bite was today’s backdrop to the washing up.  One of the segments on the show was about Assoc Prof Eva Kemps’ research on food cravings.

Food cravings are strongly associated with sensory experiences tucked away in our brains.   These experiences could be associated with images or smells, for example.  During a craving, these experiences decide to dance across our synapses.  That may not be technically correct, but I like the picure that sentence creates.  We get distracted, and we tend to stay distracted.  Too much of our mental power is used up.  Whatever we were doing, or are still trying to do, suffers.

The idea is to use diversion to defeat distraction.

I’m so distractible I cannot buy a chocolate and save it for another day.  I cannot make a tub of ice cream last the whole week.

Diversion therapy is not new, but this was the first time I’d heard it usefully described.  When a sensory experience associated with indulgent food pops up, replace it with a real but different sensory experience.  The trick is, apparently, to get one of the four senses really working for us, be it sight, touch, sound or smell.

If you are a predominantly visual person (like me), dynamic visual noise is suggested.  I wonder if my slideshows are noisy enough to drown out the call of the Cadbury purple.  For those predominantly olfactory, a non-food odour might help.  In her experiment, Kemps successfully used jasmine, but that’s not for me with my hay fever.

Simply put, we can’t just try to think about something else because there is no mental processing power available for that.  We’ve been distracted.  Instead, we short-circuit the power being supplied to those distracting images that are dancing inside our heads.  We divert the power supply.

Here’s a bizarre idea I’m going to try:

  • Take a small photo album, one photo to a page, and fill with photos, cut outs from magazines and newspapers, scraps of fabric, whatever is handy.
  • To classify as noise, it probably shouldn’t have a story. 
  • No pictures of food either.  And no dodgy juxtapositions – for example, no newspaper articles about death and mayhem next to pictures of the family. 
  • To create the dynamic visual noise, flip quickly through the album when craving indulgent food.

Results of this research project to follow.

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