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Researchers Say Looking at Gross Things Will Make You Less Fat

"Kittens and babies are not as powerful as mutilation and contamination." Yep, that's the takeaway from a new study that says we should all be slimming down by looking at horrible things.

by Alex Swerdloff
Jul 22 2015, 10:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Martyn

There are few things that can put a damper on one's appetite quite like the prospect of accidentally unearthing photographic evidence of the serape-stained night you were conceived. That or a meme about Prince Charles wanting to be Camilla Parker Bowles's tampon. No matter which groin-clenching image you pick, you really can't go wrong either way. You'll lose your appetite.

Well, science has finally ascertained the reasoning behind this age-old truism. Gross shit, at least for the most part, makes you not want to eat. (That is, unless you happen to have a Robert Carlyle à la The World Is Not Enough-level neurological disorder.)

A soon to-be published study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explores a novel solution to reducing America's obesity epidemic: exposure to a "disgusting" image for a split second before you view an image of a delicious food item.

Fuck harnessing The Force. Harness your disgust is what the scientists are telling us.

The researchers claim that "pairing feelings of disgust with [high-calorie foods] could reduce the likelihood of choosing these foods." They believe that their approach "could be a successful tactic to combat the onslaught of food cues that promote unhealthy eating,"

In the study, a group of scientists from several Colorado universities showed a group of 42 people images of frequently advertised food items with high-calorie counts, like pizza and ice cream sundaes. However, for a fraction of a second beforehand—the subject didn't even have any memory of it—they also flashed said subjects with a disgusting image, like a cockroach or vomit.

The researchers have obviously never swapped hors d'oeuvres in a truck-stop bathroom, but we can forgive them for that, can't we?

Anyways, the resounding result of the experiment was that the subliminal images lowered the degree to which the subjects wanted to "eat that [delicious] food at that moment." The scientists were also quick to mention that most food-purchasing decisions are made in a matter of seconds, so their exploration into the use of split-second subliminal images was quite apt.

This study is so totally like Ratatouille, but with 100-percent more secretly brainwashing people into killing the president.

In addition to quickly flashing negative or "disgusting" images, the researchers also tried flashing the participants with appealing or positive images, like kittens or babies, before showing the subjects images of healthful food items. They had hoped this might create a positive correlation between the healthy food and the cutesy subjects, but to no avail. The positive images didn't affect food choice, but the disgusting ones did.

"When it comes to food behavior, disgust can be very powerful," said Kristina Legget, one of the researchers and an assistant professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. "Kittens and babies are not as powerful as mutilation and contamination."

Legget is clearly not a Reddit user, but it seems as though the researchers might actually be on to something.

My advice: Bust out your camera and hit up the local burn ward. Your waistline will thank you!

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Kristina Legget
University of Colorado School of Medicine