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Can Thinking About Food Contribute to Weight Gain?

By January 11, 2013

I read an extremely informative answer from Dr. Carson regarding the negative effects of chewing and spitting. He explained that the cephalic and tasting phases of eating both trigger the release of insulin. This may seem silly, but if the cephalic phase of eating includes any suggestion of food such as seeing, hearing about, or smelling food — can thinking about food also contribute to weight gain and insulin resistance? I don’t mean in the sense that a constant obsession with food will likely lead to cravings and binging. I do not chew and spit, but at dinner I live vicariously through my friends who order dessert or eat pizza as I munch on my chicken breast and salad. Can the mere sight of the food I am resisting lead to any of the negative aspects associated with chewing and spitting? Thank you so much.

Dear Visitor:

The research regarding insulin secretion does not cover specifically this senario nor does it specifically correlate the cephalic phase to additional weight gain or insulin resistance. Many physiological involuntary responses can be triggered by thoughts both in a conscious and subconscious (sleep) state: blood pressure, heart rate, muscle contractions, body temperature, sexual arousal, hormonal secretion, etc. The manifestations of these processes are less clear and pretty much left up to speculation.

My best guess, and that is truely what it would be, is that any insulin has already been secreted during the meal and will not be additionally enhanced if one “vicariously” imagines highly palatable foods consumed by others. However, it would not be recommended that one daydream or obsess about food during periods of the day when one is not involved with the actual consumption.

Ralph Carson, PhD, RD, LD