Successful Dieters Drool Less When They See Food

Just how much your mouth waters when you feast your eyes on a tempting cheeseburger and tasty fries or a slice of rich chocolate cake may indicate how hard or easy it will be for you to keep off the pounds, according to a small new study.

The results show formerly obese people who have been successful in their diet attempts salivate less when shown pictures of high-fat foods than do obese individuals who have been unsuccessful in their weight-loss efforts.

It's easier to resist foods when the body's automatic response to the sight, smell and taste of food is dampened. So a decrease in these automatic responses, including salivation and the release of appetite-regulating hormones, should make it easier to pass on that second helping, and in turn, make dieting less difficult, the researchers say.

The findings suggest that those who manage to resist the urge to chow down will eventually experience a decline in their body's automatic appetite responses, such as salivation. Thus, the beginning of a diet may be the worst part. Once the appetite responses are toned down, holding back on eating gets easier and diets are more successful, according to the study.

However, only a small number of people participated in the study and more research needs to be done to confirm the findings.

Mouth-watering food

Anita Jansen of Maastricht University in the Netherlands and her colleagues collected saliva from 11 formerly obese individuals and 12 currently obese individuals . The formerly obese people had lost at least 10 percent of their initial weight and kept it off for at least six months, whereas the obese individuals had not lost a substantial amount of weight in the last six months despite trying to. Nearly all the participants in both groups were female.

The researchers measured the volume of saliva from the participants as they looked at pictures of high-calorie food s, and compared them to each participant's baseline measurement. The participants were asked to try to remember the pictures to make sure they were paying attention.

The obese individuals salivated more when they looked at the food pictures, but the formerly obese participants actually saw a decrease in their salvation when they viewed the food.

Sticking to a diet

It's likely this salivation decrease is the result of religiously sticking to a diet rather than going back and forth between dieting and overindulging, the researchers said.

The study suggests that ignoring a watering mouth will not only lead to a decrease in the salivation response over time, but possibly eliminate it altogether.

Future studies should look at whether this salivation decrease only occurs in response to high calorie foods, or whether it might hold true for low calorie foods as well, the researchers said.

The results were published in the June issue of the Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.