By Maia Szalavitz Wednesday, August 17, 2011 |
Linda Mooney / Getty Images
Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow — if you want to stick to your diet. That’s the conclusion of a new study, which found that upbeat, forward-looking feelings like hopefulness led to better dietary choices, while positive emotions like happiness weren’t necessarily conducive to self-control.
“Past research is a bit conflicting in terms of how positive emotion affects food consumption,” says lead author Kelly Haws, assistant professor of marketing at Texas A&M University. “We found that the more future-focused positive emotions were leading people to consume less.”
Research on unhealthy eating behavior has typically focused on negative emotions like fear, anxiety and hopelessness because people tend to use sweet or salty foods to alleviate distress. However, as anyone who has ever been to a party knows, celebrations of good times and positive feelings are also occasions for indulgence.
Haws and her colleagues wanted to study what types of positive emotions lead to unhealthy behaviors — like letting yourself slip and have “just one” as a reward for being good — and which foster greater restraint.
In the first experiment, 59 college students, most of whom were at a healthy weight, wrote essays aimed at making them feel either happy or hopeful. One group was asked to write about three happy experiences and to revisit the feelings they evoked. The other group wrote about and recalled the feelings associated with three experiences that made them most hopeful about the future.
While they wrote the essays, the students were given M&Ms and raisins to snack on. Both groups ate about the same amount of raisins, but those who were primed to feel happy ate 44% more M&Ms than those who were focused on their hope for the future.
“That’s huge,” says Haws. “You would not expect the effect to be that large.”
Another experiment involving 191 undergrads found that students who generally tended to be more focused on the past were less influenced by the experience of hopefulness when it came to choosing between healthy and unhealthy snacks.
“Most people sort of implicitly understand that negative emotions can lead them to engage in unhealthy behavior,” says Haws. “With positive emotions, there’s not as much awareness about how they can have a negative effect on consumption as well.”
Recognizing this influence may help to counteract it. “A shift in the focus [toward] positive emotions [related to the] future is more conducive to achieving your goals and having more healthy behavior,” Haws says.
The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
Roughly 40% of you set New Year’s Resolutions related to weight loss and/or exercise. As a Certified Personal Trainer at the MAC, this doesn’t surprise me as I see and read all the time of the lack of physical activity in the US and its direct relation to an increase in obesity, muscular dysfunction and injury in the general population.
A few concerning statistics (NASM CPT 3rd Edition):
- 33% of adults are estimated to be obese (BMI of 30+ or 40+ lbs overweight) and 66% are overweight (BMI of 25+ or 10-30lbs overweight)
- Nearly 80% of all adults experience low back pain.
- 80,000-100,000 ACL tears/year, 70% of which are non-contact.
- In 2003, approx. 31 million visits were made to the physicians’ office for back problems, 19 million for knee problems, 14 million for shoulder problems and 11 million for foot and ankle.
If you find yourself embedded in one of those statistics, ask yourself some hard questions.
- Do I value the benefits of a healthy lifestyle?
- Will daily exercise improve my quality of life?
- Do I have the resources to make my health a priority?
- Do I believe I have the self control, determination and willpower to improve my health and fitness?
If you answered yes to any of these questions and have set your resolutions but are still having trouble sticking to them, I’ve outlined a few tips below that may help your journey.
- Take time and PLAN AHEAD: there will always be an excuse, an errand, a meeting or a happy hour- be sure to plan your workouts well in advance. When you schedule an hour at the gym 3-4 days in advance you are less likely to get distracted and break your date with the treadmill.
- Partner up: strength in numbers! It is much easier to get to the gym when you are meeting a friend, trainer or joining a class. If self-motivation is difficult, lean on a work out buddy or personal trainer for accountability or let your group fitness instructor know you will attend their next class- saying it out loud will make you more committed to the date.
- Use your resources- if you can’t get to the gym, can you walk and/or bike your errands, do a core workout before bed (simply googling “abs” will bring up plenty) or walk the stairs in your house 50 times?
- Traveling for work- does your hotel have a gym? Can you walk to your meetings? Stretching your legs and pumping oxygen through your body will clear your head and make you a more efficient and productive employee.
- Earn it: let the food pyramid be your guide when deciding what to buy at the grocery store- let discretion be your guide when deciding when and how often to indulge. Earn your snacks or treat; let them be a reward for your hard work. Start by limiting yourself to one snack/day and see if you can whittle it down to one indulgence a week.
- Cook your meals: eliminate preservatives, added sugars, strange chemicals and unnecessary calories by cooking your own meals. Look for substitutes for butter, mayonnaise and cream while minimizing cheese and eliminating fried foods.
- Pack a lunch: packing your lunch will help with portion control as well as ensure you are eating intentionally. A lunch bag with fruit, veggies, yogurt and a whole grain sandwich will help keep your waistline- and pocketbook- slim.
- Just don’t buy it: don’t tempt yourself with fried chips, cookies, chocolates and ice cream on a daily basis, you will be testing your self-control a little too often. Don’t keep these sugary and fried foods around- when you feel like treating yourself, go pick ONE up and enjoy a SINGLE serving.
- Food for thought: feed your mind positive things, take time to read a good book, go on a walk, do something artsy- crave positivity.
- Sleep: with kids and work the art of sleeping can become a difficult one, but value the benefits of a regular rest schedule. If you can’t sleep at least 6 hours/night, take a 20 minute afternoon nap.
- Drink water, lots of it: in addition to the eight glasses of 8 oz’s of water a day, you should drink 16 to 20 oz of water 2 hours before exercise and 20 to 40 oz of water after exercise. The goal is to replace water lost while exercising to maintain your daily weight (weight on waking up in the morning).
Hopefully with these little tips and tricks you can keep your resolve to maintain a healthy weight and active lifestyle. Buckle down, stick to your guns, and in no time you’ll have something to show for it!
Maryann Boddy, CPT
Magnuson Athletic Club
“The only limitations we have are the ones we place on ourselves.”