Friday, October 28, 2011

Feeling Tempted? Don't Stop to Think About It

Temptation is one of the most awful sensations; it's a combination of desire and longing for something spiked with an intense sense of guilt and consequence. You want it, but you know you can't have it. Dieters know this feeling well, particularly those working in offices where there always happen to be 'extra' treats kicking around. But next time you're tempted to sneak in a few extra (hundred) calories, don't bother stopping to think about it. Just walk away, says new research.

In the past, there's been a mixed body of evidence surrounding temptation of all sorts - dietary or otherwise. Some research has found that thinking about a particular temptation might make one more likely to give in, while other research shows the opposite effect. Using diet as an example, some studies suggest that thinking about a treat and rationalizing it can go either way. One could say "I've stuck to the program lately, one treat won't harm me" and give in, or, alternatively, thinking "I'm on a diet, I shouldn't have this" might make one less likely to have it. But until now, little, if any work has been done to combine studies of temptation with actual physical bodily states, like, for example, hunger or cravings. Now how could those possibly influence temptation?

Published in the journal Psychological Science, the authors of this new study have found that the less satiated we are, in other words, if our desire for something is very strong, then we're more likely to give in to temptation and go for instant gratification or indulgence rather than thinking longer-term and delaying gratification. In this particular study, the researchers investigated sexual desire and smoking temptation, but the results speak volumes about all forms of temptation. In the study, more temptation reduced fidelity and self-control in participants in the desire condition, while it made smokers less able to wait for their next smoke, even if they were going to receive money for waiting.

So what does all this mean when it comes to diets? Ultimately, if you're hungry or haven't had a treat in a long while (deprivation!) then you're more likely to give in rather than delaying gratification. Think about going to the grocery store when you're starving versus after a meal - in which condition do you pick up more goodies and treats? It's also why many dieters fail around Halloween or other holidays. They want to look and feel amazing for particular events, work extra hard and deprive themselves, so when faced with a table of treats, it seems "logical" to indulge, or reward oneself.

The key message here as it relates to sticking to a healthy diet and avoiding bingeing on items you'll regret later is to follow a diet that is healthy and the right amount of calories for you while satisfying your cravings regularly - even daily if necessary! If you like a piece of chocolate for dessert or popcorn as a snack - have it. More nutrient-dense foods will provide better nutrition overall, but if avoiding the things you love to achieve short-term goals is going to make you snap and eat it all back in one weekend, is it really worth it? You can decide.