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Can Playing Tetris Reduce Food Cravings?

Can Playing Tetris Reduce Food Cravings?

Think about the food that you crave the most. Indulge in that thought. Think about smelling it, holding it, and savoring it.

Now try to shake the craving. Difficult, right?

There is a strong line of research that not only shows that food cravings are common, but are hard to dismiss. In other words, the cravings take control of our thoughts, and we might not be able to concentrate on anything else, such as work, until the craving is satisfied.

So, it would make sense to have tactics in our arsenal to save us from our cravings.

Tetris to the Rescue

Tetris cookiesIn a recent study, researchers found that playing Tetris decreases such cravings.2 Participants were given an iPod Touch, and responded to 7 texts each day to answer questions about their cravings. If they were craving anything, they were asked, "How strong is the craving?" on a 0-100 scale. 

A control group simply answered these questions, while the Tetris group answered the questions, and then played Tetris for 3 minutes. After the 3 minutes, they re-recorded the strength of the cravings. Everyone was asked, "Have you indulged in the item you reported craving previously?"

On each of the 7 days, playing Tetris consistently reduced cravings. On average, cravings for food/drink were 68 on scale of 0 to 100 before Tetris, but were reduced to 53 after playing Tetris. Thus, Tetris did help reduce the craving, but did not remove the craving.

However, playing tetris did not appear to reduce the tendency to indulge in their cravings in everyone. 58% of the Tetris group indulged in their craving, while 56% indulged in the control group.

How Could It Work?

 Tetris most likely worked in a similar way to other forms of craving reducing tactics, such as certain smells (e.g. jasmine), prayer, positive thoughts, and other visual stimuli. Specifically, our brains appear to only have limited resources to dedicate to cravings. The theory is called the 'elaborated intrusion theory of desire', and suggests that focusing on other stimuli, such as an odor or playing Tetris, can interfere with or intrude on our brain's limited processing of subsequent cravings. Thus, Tetris and other tactics are not distractions, rather they prevent the brain from elaborating on the craving.

Food cravings can become a major problem when we keep thinking about them, indulging in the thoughts, smells, and tastes. We lust. Thus, Tetris becomes the parent walking in on a young couple kissing, intruding on their make-out session, and ruining the mood. 

Also, when we perform repeated acts of self-control, such as fighting off a craving, our willpower or 'mental energy' decreases. It is much like a muscle that fatigues over repeated use.1 If our willpower is low, we cannot self-control as well, and will be prone to succumb to the craving. Thus, if we can step in and intrude on our cravings, not allowing them to elaborate, we save up our willpower for later use.

Conclusion

Playing Tetris appears to be a plausible way to reduce food cravings, through its intruding on our ability to mentally elaborate on the craving. However, as with other research on similar tactics, there appears to be a reduction in cravings, but not a removal of cravings.

It is worth a shot, as any potential boost might help us not indulge in a craving that is not in line with our healthy eating goals. Also, it is possible that such efforts will help you save or even build self-control over time, which we need to be successful in the long haul.

Of course, do not use as a replacement for healthy eating, and it always a good option to remove the cues for cravings in the first place. Clearly, if you do not keep the junk food in the house, then you might be less likely to have insatiable cravings for it. This might be a great first step.

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  1. Muraven, M., & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Self-regulation and depletion of limited resources: Does self-control resemble a muscle?. Psychological Bulletin, 126(2), 247-259.
  2. Skorka-Brown, J., Andrade, J., Whalley, B., & May, J. (2015). Playing Tetris decreases drug and other cravings in real world settings. Addictive Behaviors, 51, 165-170.
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