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For the seven-hour study, participants were able to earn points, which could then be traded in to obtain snack foods, healthy foods, or access to the fun activities. The effort to obtain these points was steadily increased for the snack foods, but not for the healthy foods or the activities.
Using this technique, the researchers were able to determine how much extra effort each person was willing to make to obtain the less healthy snack foods, given that less effort would provide a “reward” in the form of healthy food or an activity instead.
To avoid struggling to resist tempting junk foods, the best approach may be moderation. Instead of forbidding yourself access to your favorite foods, allowing yourself some now and then (perhaps as a reward for a task you are putting off) may help keep you on track with your healthy eating habits the rest of the time. Buying just what you intend to eat at a given time, such as a small bag of chips or candy, is one way to do this. Avoid keeping your favorite snack foods around in large quantities so you won’t be tempted to go overboard.
Another useful trick is to find a substitute for snacking on less healthy foods. It doesn’t matter if the substitute is a healthy food or a fun activity. Simply steering yourself away from the junky snack foods will go a long way toward keeping your entire diet on a healthy track!
(Health Psych 2010; 29:222–6)