Tag Archives: diet

Want to keep those New Year’s resolutions?

In just a few days we’ll have a resolution double-whammy. Not just a new year, but a new decade. Seems like a perfect time to be jotting down those resolutions (or publishing them online), right? Making resolutions is one thing…but what about keeping them? What can social psychology tell us that will help increase the odds that this time next year we’ll be proud of ourselves for the changes we’ve made?

In a recent study Lally et al. found that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a new habit to become automatic. While 254 days of gym trips and healthier eating may seem daunting, there’s small comfort in their finding that missing one day did not seem to influence the habit formation process. Weidemann et al. found that action-planning and coping-planning also affect behavior change, particularly in behaviors related to health. Additionally, developing an action plan early on and preparing mentally for the obstacles you may confront as you try to keep your goal (coping-planning, further explained here) can also help you keep your goal.

So,

  • stick with your resolution for the long haul
  • don’t beat yourself up too much if you miss a day
  • develop a plan to help you reach your goal or keep your resolution
  • mentally imagine yourself overcoming any obstacles
  • and, while you’re at it, tell your friends, since that seems to help too!

(2009) Lally et al. How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world

(2009) Wiedemann et al. How planning facilitates behaviour change: Additive and interactive effects of a randomized controlled trial

(2005) Sniehotta et al. Action planning and coping planning for long-term lifestyle change: theory and assessment

(2009) Burkeman. This column will change your life, The Guardian

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Consider Peoples Eating Behaviors

A quick count of the Social Psychology Eye blog reveals at least 8 posts related to weight, health, and eating behaviors. A quick diet search on the Internet will leave the individual with a plethora of websites to sort through. Eating and related topics have become so important because of the implications of food on our lives. Whether investigating the issue of overeating, not eating, perceived food restraint from food, or perhaps consuming a “manly” meal it is important to consider the contributing factors to understand eating behaviors. One phenomenon to consider for instance is the disinhibition effect where people are purportedly more likely to overeat after violating their diet. Diet violations are commonplace especially when considering all the possible places where food or snacks are sold and people’s disposition to eating junk food (refer to the November 7th post).

Recently researchers assessed the generalizability of the disinhibition effect (Tomiyama et al., 2009). The researchers selected female participants, who are more likely to practice restraint eating. Participants reported food consumption on an hourly basis. No evidence was found for the disinhibition effect. The experiment was repeated using female participants who reported restraint eating. In addition to regular reports of eating behavior participants were asked to stop by the laboratory and drink a milkshake. A manipulation designed as a diet violation. Again participants reported their eating behavior but no effect was found related to overeating. To the surprise of the researchers the participants compensated for over consumption by reducing calorie consumption. Researchers explain that participants who violated their diets perhaps succeeded in not overeating because they avoided additional foods whereas in the classic experiments participants would have been able to indulge by having access to the tempting food. While the findings highlight the importance of investigating eating behaviors the findings cannot be generalized to other age groups or to males. Some questions left unanswered are, outside of the lab, when might the disinhibition effect be most likely to occur, and with what population? Is it more likely to occur when participants are overweight? Lastly when does diet violation, which is ubiquitous, become a problem?

Read more: Internet diet search

Tomiyama, A, J., Moskovich, A., Byrne Haltom, K., Ju, T., Mann, T. (2009). Consumption after a diet violation; Disinhibition or       compensation?

The Restraint Bias: Another reason why a diet won’t work

Chocolate_chip_cookiesAs it happens people underestimate control over situations. Take the classic example of a student who waits until the last minute to study for a final exam because “they have it all under control”. This example is a type of bias that surprisingly is more common than expected. Another example of bias is a person who walks into a café to only get a coffee and is temped to get a tasty pastry. The phenomenon referred to is the restraint bias, or the perceived ability to have control over an impulse. Apply this concept to any vice when someone feels or is biased into perceived control and a similar conclusion is likely to occur.

Take the new fad: the cookie diet. People are purportedly allowed to eat cookies in addition to one meal. And it is precisely because of the name that people underestimate their ability to control the impulse, according to the New York Times report. However because people see the feasibility they are likely to try the diet and nevertheless fall for the impulse of eating that extra cookie.

As an example, Nordgren, van Harreveld & van der Pligt (2009), asked satiated and hungry participants to select a snack which was to be returned a week later in exchange for money. The authors reported that the more restraint bias experienced by satiated participants the greater the likelihood of not returning the snack. More importantly is the fact that the satiated participants chose their first or second favorite snacks while the hungry participants reportedly accounted for the bias by selecting a second or third favorite snack. The cookie diet then is an important example because it sounds harmless and increases the likelihood of bias. However based on the experiment by Nordgren et al., (2009) it can be concluded that because a cookie seems harmless people are more likely to be biased for that extra snack.

square-eye Read more: The Cookie diet

square-eye Nordgren, van Harreveld & van der Pligt (2009) The restraint bias-How the illusion of self-restraint  promotes impulsive behavior.

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Help our overweight children

childhood-obesity-by-joe-huObesity has been rated as the No.1 health problem for American children, according to a 2009 poll conducted by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Up to one out of every five children in the U.S. is overweight or obese, and this number is continuing to grow. Obesity places children at risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes later in life. The overweight children are also more prone to be depressed, anxious, and withdrawn, and report low self-esteem.

Children become overweight and obese for a variety of reasons. The most common causes are genetic factors, lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, or a combination of these factors. For example, psychologists explain that a combination of environmental pressures (e.g., parental concerns about children’s safety), technological factors (e.g., labor-saving devices such as cars), and societal transitions from childhood to adulthood are likely to increase sedentary behaviors, which usually coexist with eating, resulting in weight gain in children (Hills et al., 2007).

Although factors associated with and possible causes of obesity are complex, a child’s total diet and activity level play an important role in determining a child’s weight. Today, many children spend a lot time being inactive. For example, the average child spends approximately 4 hours each day watching television. As computers and video games become increasingly popular, the number of hours of inactivity may increase. Reducing the prevalence of childhood obesity is a public health challenge, and schools and parents have the potential to play a powerful role in diminishing this serious health crisis.

square-eyeObesity Is Biggest Health Problem for Kids (WebMD News)

square-eyeCrothers, L.M., Kehle, T. J., Bray, M. A., & Theodore, L. A. (2009). Correlates and suspected causes of obesity in children.

square-eyeTheodore, L. A., Bray, M.A., & Kehle, T.J. (2009). Introduction to the special issue: Childhood obesity.