Data-driven dieting

The interesting thing about dieting is that while everyone knows what you need to do to lose weight (eat less and move more), very few people know much about how to get yourself to do these things.

So, how do you increase your willpower? 

1. Don’t get too hungry.
It seems that there is a link between blood sugar and self control. For example, this study showed that when you perform an act requiring self-control, your blood sugar drops, and that when you have low blood sugar, your performance on subsequent self-control tasks decreases. This is a good reason to heed the oft-quoted diet advice to eat small meals 5-6 times a day as this stabilizes the blood sugar and keeps the cookie monster at bay.

2. Use your imagination.
Tempting treats are nearly everywhere around us at this time of year: leftover Halloween candy, holiday parties, home-baked treats, etc. How should you respond to a tempting, but fattening treat in your vicinity? According to this study, try to imagine it in non-food context. Instead of seeing brownies, see chocolate door stops. Instead of candies, checkers pieces. Just try to think of as many non-food uses for the item. Researchers found that subjects who were told to think of non-food uses for tempting chocolate rated chocolate as less appealing than those who were instructed to think of chocolate as delicious.

3. Adjust your mental model.
Earlier, I wrote about a recent paper refuting a long-held model of self-control that asserted that self-control is a limited resource that gets depleted with use. This paper demonstrated that not believing in this model led to higher performance on a self-control task.

Gailliot, M., Baumeister, R., DeWall, C., Maner, J., Plant, E., Tice, D., Brewer, L., & Schmeichel, B. (2007). Self-control relies on glucose as a limited energy source: Willpower is more than a metaphor. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92 (2), 325-336 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.92.2.325

Hofmann, W., Deutsch, R., Lancaster, K., & Banaji, M. (2009). Cooling the heat of temptation: Mental self-control and the automatic evaluation of tempting stimuli European Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.708