We've all faced these temptations—candy at the office, a co-worker's leftover birthday cake, a bountiful spread of desserts at a cocktail party. But if you're looking to cut unhealthy foods from your diet this year, the trick to avoiding them is counterintuitive. New research finds that if you want to avoid overeating unhealthy foods, serve yourself.
That's right—having to cut the cake or scoop out chocolate candies from the bowl yourself will result in you eating less, and possibly none at all. Linda Hagen, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, and two co-authors conducted the study of five experiments to be published later this year in the Journal of Marketing Research. Highlighted in the Wall Street Journal, the findings reveal that while serving yourself doesn't curb your cravings for unhealthy foods, it can be effective in stopping you from eating them.
In one experiment, students were made to wait in a waiting room prior to an unrelated study. Arriving in several separate groups, the students were greeted by a sign that read "Have yourself a little snack." When the snack—Reese's Pieces—were distributed into individual sampling cups, nearly 32% of students took one. When the Reese's Pieces were left in a large bowl accompanied by a spoon and a stack of cups, none of the students served themselves the candy. "If they're served by someone else, they can outsource responsibility to someone else," Hagen says. "But if they serve themselves, they have to accept responsibility, and that makes them feel bad."
So while buying food in portion-sized packages has been touted as a way to cut calories, it might be more strategically sound to buy in bulk so you have to serve yourself each time you decide to snack. As for meals, it's fine to allow someone to dish out the healthy stuff, but when it comes to dessert, be sure you're the one serving yourself.
Head to the comments to share your thoughts on these findings, and let us know if you have any other tricks for mindful eating.