We know how it is — you’re dieting and trying to stay on track when suddenly, temptation strikes. But according to new research, the difference between giving in and staying strong could be as simple as just telling yourself you’ll eat that tasty treat later on.
In work presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, study researcher Nicole Mead, a psychologist at the Catolica-Lisbon School of Business and Economics in Portugal, reported on a series of experiments that found this postponement strategy “really keeps the temptation at arm’s length.”
In one of the experiments conducted by Dr. Mead and her colleagues, student volunteers completing various tasks in the lab were presented with bowls of M&Ms. Some students were told to eat them if they wanted, some were told to avoid eating them at all, and a third group was told that they could eat the candy later, should they so choose.
The results showed students in the first group ate 5.19 grams of the candies, while those who were deprived ate 9.81 grams. The postponement group ate 5.08 grams — the least of all.
“Participants in the ‘don’t eat’ condition ate practically double the amount of M&Ms” as those in the “wait until later” condition, Mead wrote in an email to LiveScience.
What’s more, the results lasted beyond that day. People who’d been forbidden from eating chocolate in the experiment ate the sweet stuff on average 4.48 times in the week following, and participants who’d been able to eat M&Ms at-will ate chocolate 3.18 times on average in the next week. But the volunteers in the “wait until later” group only ate chocolate an average of 1.15 times during that same time period.
“What this means is that postponement has real implications for everyday consumption,” Mead said. “It’s a cooling-off strategy [that] … encourages self-control.”