It’s hard to avoid, with so much cheap food available in the West. We don’t always need to see or smell food in order to feel the intense desire for it. Sometimes, all we have to do is think about a particular food.
While resisting temptations such as these is very difficult, many people do it because of reasons like health and fitness or finances. What are the strategies people use to resist eating everything they see? In our newest study, we asked a small group of people how they managed to resist consuming tasty foods and drinks every day.
There is a lot of advice on managing food and beverage intake. There are many ways to reduce your food intake, from simple things like making a list of what you need to buy up to the extremes, like cutting out certain foods completely. Our goal was to see what people do to reduce their consumption and whether they found these strategies useful.
We interviewed 25 people with an average age between 37 and 40 and BMIs ranging from 20 to 33 (healthy weight up to obesity). We found four main types of techniques they used in a group discussion to control their intake of tasty foods and beverages.
First, reduce the availability of foods that are tempting. They said it was helpful to make the tempting foods difficult to get or unavailable. Some participants would lock sweets away or not keep them at home. Some participants created a list of items to buy, purchased groceries for the entire week rather than every few days, or selected a supermarket that had limited options.
The participants in the study used different mental strategies for limiting their intake. Some people say that they restrict themselves from eating certain foods because they find it difficult to stop eating after a small portion. Some people took a flexible approach and allowed themselves to enjoy a treat but planned a specific time to consume it.
The chart below shows how the participants implemented each strategy. Author provided
Some participants also told us that they use exercise to control their intake of foods tempting. Exercise reduced the desire and hunger of some participants to eat tasty foods. Other participants did not want to “undo” their hard work by eating these foods.
Participants said they controlled their intake by altering the composition of their meals. Most often, participants used the strategies of planning meals at a specific time and preparing their food. The respondents said that it was important to them to have the ability to select the ingredients, portion size, and time of eating a meal.
We also discovered that participants didn’t use these strategies alone. The participants used the strategy together to resist temptation and prevent being tempted. The methods weren’t only employed by dieters – participants with healthy BMIs also used them regularly to manage their eating.
These findings demonstrate that there are many ways to manage food intake. The above strategies will help people achieve their goal to reduce their consumption of food and beverages, whatever their motivation.
But environmental changes can also help. Can do this by stocking vending machines at work with healthier choices. It is unlikely that there will be an easy and quick way to change the environment. However, efforts to make healthier choices more accessible would be a good start. People need to be free to live their lives without constantly having to manage temptations in response to the ever-present reminders of delicious foods and beverages.