Why We Break Our Diets

Posted: June 4, 2012 in Health
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

We live in a world of choices. We decide whether to wake up, hit the snooze alarm, or fall back to sleep. We choose where to live, which college to attend, and in what field to begin our career. We decide who to marry, what to bring for lunch, and which gym membership offers the best deal on group classes. The decisions are endless, and the average person makes around 1,000 of them a day.

A quick trip to the grocery store reveals over forty brands of cereal, six types of red apples, and nine varieties of popcorn. By law, food products must provide information about their contents, the pros and cons of each serving, so that we can decide whether it’s more worthwhile to enjoy a packet of Butterscotch Krimpets or to satisfy our hunger with a helping of healthy trail mix.

The right decision.

But having the information at hand doesn’t mean that we’ll make informed decisions about the food we bring home, a reality explained in part by Decision Fatigue. Simply put, our brains have a limited amount of energy to devote to making decisions. After choice after choice after choice, the energy source is depleted. After a hectic day, we don’t have the energy or determination to decide if there is any meaningful difference between MacIntosh and Red Delicious.

Above: Two different products.

Decision Fatigue is particularly noticeable in choices requiring will-power and self-control. In one experiment, participants were given the option of eating chocolate chip cookies. Those people who successfully resisted eating the cookies were then more likely to give in later to the other temptations that researchers laid out for them. Making the decision to stick to your diet during the day means having less energy to devote to choosing healthy snacks at night.

The good news is that it’s possible to lessen the effects of decision fatigue by taking precautions against it. If you’re dieting, you might avoid temptation by planning meals in advance, carrying healthy snacks, and reworking your schedule to bypass your pet indulgences. If you’re just trying to eat healthy, it may help to make your shopping decisions early in the morning, before your energy pool is tapped out.

And if you’re craving something sweet, it may be safer to indulge in something small—otherwise, you may find yourself writing a blog about resisting temptation while eating three cups of lemon water ice. Whoever that may apply to.

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