A major barrier to weight loss is that dieters plan to eat foods they do not enjoy, like brussels sprouts.
Not only that, but they typically cut out all the foods they do enjoy, such as strawberries.
Naturally, this is a recipe for dieting failure because a lack of pleasure reduces motivation.
Instead, dieters should choose tasty and healthy foods that they enjoy eating.
An unhealthy treat from time-to-time probably does little harm.
The conclusions come from a study including 542 people whose dieting strategies were tested.
Dr Meredith David, the study’s first author, said:
“Our research shows that instead of creating rules to avoid one’s favorite treats, dieters should focus on eating healthy foods that they enjoy.
Dieters who restrict themselves from consuming the foods they love most may be setting themselves up for failure.
Instead, they may be better off by allowing occasional ‘treats’ and focusing attention on healthy foods that they enjoy and making it a point to include those tasty, but healthy foods in their diet.”
Dieting is particularly hard for people with low self-control.
Unfortunately, this type of people tend to restrict themselves from eating their favourite foods, when it might be better to allow an occasional treat.
People with low self-control are also more likely to choose healthy foods that they do not like eating, the study found.
Dr David said:
“In coming up with plans to enhance one’s health and well-being, low self-control individuals tend to set themselves up for a harder pathway to success by focusing on avoiding the very foods they find most tempting.
Our data reveals that individuals who are generally more successful at reaching their goals tend to develop more motivating plans regarding the inclusion of healthy, well-liked items and the exclusion of unhealthy items that are not one’s favorites.”
Dr David said pleasure is important:
“Frequent attention is given to health advice surrounding well-intentioned lists of ‘magical’ foods that everyone should eat or practically ‘poisonous’ foods that people should avoid consuming.
The next time you decide to go on a diet or seek to improve your health by altering your food consumption, opt for strategies that focus on including healthy foods in your diet, and focus specifically on those healthy foods that you really enjoy eating.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Psychology & Marketing (David & Haws, 2016).