Playing a simple game on a phone can help to reduce food cravings, research suggests.
Three minutes playing a video game reduced cravings for food, alcohol and cigarettes, a study has found.
Food craving can be a major barrier for those trying to lose weight.
Cravings are often focused on unhealthy foods high in sugar, fat and salt, which can make weight loss very difficult.
The game used in the study was ‘Tetris’, an old-fashioned game involving rotating differently shaped blocks.
The game just provides a visual distraction, so other games would probably work as well.
Visual distractors probably work because the mind’s capacity is limited: it is hard to concentrate on two things at any one time.
One of the study’s authors, Professors Jackie Andrade, explained:
“Episodes of craving normally only last a few minutes, during which time an individual is visualising what they want and the reward it will bring.
Often those feelings result in the person giving in and consuming the very thing they are trying to resist.
But by playing Tetris, just in short bursts, you are preventing your brain creating those enticing images and without them the craving fades.”
The study included 119 people whose cravings were measured before and after playing the video game.
The results showed that cravings were reduced by 24 percent in comparison to a control group.
Professor Andrade said:
“Feeling in control is an important part of staying motivated, and playing Tetris can potentially help the individual to stay in control when cravings strike.
It is something a person can quickly access, for the most part whether they are at work or at home, and replaces the feeling of stress caused by the craving itself.
Ultimately, we are constantly looking for ways to stimulate cravings for healthy activities – such as exercise – but this a neutral activity that we have shown can have a positive impact.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Appetite (Skorka-Brown et al., 2014).