Tag Archives: Dieting

Yum! This imagined cake is as good as the real thing.

By Erica Zaiser

For some people, all the delicious calorific treats being pushed by friends and relatives during the holiday season can be a joyous and tasty time. But for others, the holiday season can feel like a constant battle of the wills due to the guilt-laden festive food. In the struggle for self-control many people force themselves to stop thinking about all the food they are attempting to avoid. It seems logical that if you think about eating it, you will want to eat it. But some psychology research has suggested just the opposite.

In a set of studies discussed in the Guardian online, participants who were asked to imagine eating large amounts of a treat actually ate less of the food afterwards compared to those who imagined eating a small amount or imagined interacting with the food in a different way. Although the difference was small, this might suggest that actually visualising the behaviour beforehand reduces the “wanting drive” for that behaviour. It would be interesting to see if this type of activity would work for other negative behaviours people want to avoid (smoking for example).

Some past research on behavioural intentions has shown that when imagining a positive behaviour, people report more intentions to engage in it. It’s interesting that with a positive behaviour, imagining it can increase willingness to do it; but imagining engaging in a negative (but wanted) behaviour can decrease the need to engage in real life.

Read more: Effects of Directed Thinking on Intentions to Engage in Beneficial Activities: Idea Generation or Mental Simulation?
Read more: Imagine eating if you want to lose weight, say scientists. Guardian.co.uk.


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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?

Should we put our mind to it, go for it, get down and break a sweat?

treadmillA recent story in Time Magazine made a bold statement by proclaiming that while exercise and physical activity may improve physical and mental health, it may not help you lose weight. As the author acknowledges, there are a number of reasons this might occur. Physiologically, exercise can prompt the release of hormones that stimulate hunger, causing people to eat more. Additionally, as the article discusses, some dieters often reward themselves after workouts by consuming high-calorie foods that merely replace the calories burned during the workout.

Another possible explanation addressed in the article looks to social psychological research performed by Roy Baumeister and colleagues. In their pivotal studies about self-regulation, they found that when people are depleted of the energy to exercise self-control, they often engage in disinhibited behaviors, such as eating more. These studies have interesting implications for weight loss and exercise. For instance, people who are exercising frequently might also be dieting to lose weight. Dieters often employ substantial self-restraint throughout the day to resist tempting food. Thus, it might not be exercise that is leading to increased eating; rather, the frequent self-monitoring process of dieters may deplete them of the energy needed to resist fattening foods. On the other hand, exercise lowers blood sugar levels, including that of glucose, which has been intimately linked to self-regulatory abilities (Gailliot et al., 2007). Is it the case then that post-exercise hunger, which often leads to the consumption of high-sugar food, is simply the body’s way of returning to homeostasis?

It seems that social psychological research will have much more to say about this topic in the future, as it remains unclear whether it is dieting or exercise that is directly leading to the consumption of fattening foods. And if the booming weight-loss market tells us anything, it’s that people want to know the best way to get fit and look good.

square-eye Time Magazine: Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin.

square-eye Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., & Tice, D. M. (2007). The Strength Model of Self-Control.

$1.99 Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2007). Self-Regulation, Ego Depletion, and Motivation.