There is a visual connection between what we see and how we perceive taste. Studies have shown that people’s ability to identify flavors – and consequently their enjoyment of food – is greatly diminished in the absence of visual cues. We have learned to associate certain colors, shapes, and other visual cues with both flavors and judgments of taste. Again, the mind figures prominently here, storing and retrieving these associations based on visual (as well as olfactory) cues. For instance, when you see an ad on television for a juicy cheeseburger with all the fixin’s, along with some perfectly crisp French fries and a cool creamy milkshake, your reaction is likely, “Mmmm!” The image of those foods is correlated with good taste in your mind. You may even feel a hunger or craving for these items simply based on reading these descriptions.
The presentation of food and perceptions of taste also go hand in hand. You are probably familiar with one of the many cooking shows on TV today. The way the chefs prepare and present their dishes on these shows is likely different than how you do so in your own home. When the featured recipe is complete and plated – even if it is composed entirely of vegetables, lean protein, or other “unglamorous” healthy foods – the careful and appealing presentation of the dish is attractive to our eyes, which signals positive associations to the mind. “This looks so good and tasty!” Perhaps its teriyaki salmon with a side of spinach and quinoa – not something that makes your mouth water when you read the words. But presented elegantly, with an herb garnish or drizzle of the marinade, this meal looks delicious and your taste buds are primed to experience it as such. When we recognize these visual associations, we can use them to our advantage.
The Power of Visual Associations
To get a better idea of the power of visual associations, you can do a little experiment right in your own kitchen. Mix up some cake batter according to the usual recipe, then add way too much salt — and I mean something like a half cup (substitute out some sugar to maintain the right consistency). Bake the cake and then frost it once it cools. Place the finished product right in front of you. When your eyes look at the finished product, this beautiful cake, even though you know that there was an extra half cup of salt in the batter, the urge to eat the cake does not go away. The reason these urges to eat the overly salted cake do not go away is because of association. When you’re sitting at the table looking at this cake, you’re associating the cake with good taste.
If you want to take the experiment a little bit further, cut yourself a nice big slice of this beautifully iced cake. Try to eat a slice of cake. You’ll probably throw it into the trash or spit it back out on the plate. But do not throw the rest of the cake away. Leave it sitting on the table and try to forget about it for an hour or two. What happens when you go back in the kitchen again and see the cake? You likely will be tempted to sit down and cut yourself another slice, even though you know and have tasted how awful it is!
TIP: If you want to eat more healthful foods, and enjoy them to create new positive associations, change the way you present meals to yourself. Once you make the conscious decision to change your eating habits, shop for one place setting you really like. It may be elegant, colorful, funky, or plain, so long as it is aesthetically pleasing to you. Buy one (small) plate, a bowl, a glass, and a fork, knife, and spoon. The act of “treating” yourself to something appealing alone sets up positive associations (even in the sometimes resistant subconscious mind). Then, each time you prepare a healthy mean – and only for healthy meals – present it to yourself on your new place setting as if you were a chef displaying it to an audience, complete with garnish or other flourishes if those are appealing to you. Treating your meal this way will create a positive visual that your mind will interpret as good tasting food – and eventually better tasting than the burger and fries served on foil paper out of a grease-stained bag. Again, we are not trying to eliminate fast food entirely at this point, only trying to create new, positive sensorial associations with healthy food. By focusing on presentation, we simultaneously bypass the ego’s rejection of change and appeal to its pleasure centers aesthetically. This is an inexpensive way to start retraining your brain and taste buds toward a healthier style of eating. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef, use fancy ingredients, or have restaurant experience – simply pick a place setting you like and use it only for healthy meals.
Authors Notes: Learn to each healthy in minutes and have your food taste great! Our visual stimulation assists in the actual taste of what we eat. If it looks good 9 times out of 10 it will taste good! This was a quick and healthy Sunday morning meal that some friends and I enjoyed very much! Simply put, eggs, turkey bacon, wheat toast with a strawberry, tomato, chocolate garnish. To read more on food and visual stimulation get my book I’m Core Fit: Success in One Day for the Rest of Your Life! or The Ultimate Fitness Tips: Expert Guide to Fitness by Michaelson Williams.