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Surprising Science

Overcome Willpower Fatigue: Eat the Healthy Foods You Want

Researchers say that when planning a diet, you should consider your feelings, and how they will play a role in your eating behavior.

Thoughts and feelings don’t often agree with one another, especially when dieting. For instance, I want to lose weight and stop eating sweets, but I recently went to have ice cream with my friends. My behavior is not lining up with my diet planning. It’s a frustrating notion, understanding all the benefits of not having that ice cream, but eating it anyway.

Marc Kiviniemi, a public health researcher at the University at Buffalo, says that at any one time one-third of Americans are trying a new diet, yet 60 percent of adults are overweight or obese.

“There is clearly a disconnect if we have a majority of the population that has tried to lose weight and a majority of the population that is overweight. People are planning to diet and trying to diet, but that’s not translating into a successful weight-loss effort.”

The obesity epidemic isn’t about fixing one issue — there are many. But Kiviniemi is trying to solve the behavioral aspect of the problem. After all, dieting is all about changing behavior and reinforcing it. During his research alongside Carolyn Brown-Kramer of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, they found the factors that go into planning a diet differ from the ones that guide behavior.

“Planning is important, but feelings matter, and focusing on feelings and understanding their role can be a great benefit.”

They found that it’s all about the amount of cognitive energy people have to put into their diets. If a person puts themselves in a position to deny themselves from certain foods on a daily basis, their willpower will eventually give out. This study echoes previous ones, which have found dieting to be one of the worst ways to lose weight.  

Kiviniemi says it’s all about framing behavioral change in a positive light.

“It’s not just about eating healthy foods. It’s about eating the healthy foods you like the most.”

He advises that planning shouldn’t just be about eating less sugar and more veggies, but consideration for overcoming the fatigue of constantly choosing what’s healthy over what you may want.

As Gretchen Rubin said in her interview with Big Think, we can all identify the changes we need to make in order to create healthier habits; the trick is making it happen — turning it into action. For me, avoiding that desire for an afternoon snack has been stopped by replacing it with a walk or bicycle ride outside. By the time I return to my desk, I no longer feel I need a sugary treat.

Read more at EurekAlert!

Photo Credit: Jake Stimpson/Flickr


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