Weight. It’s the focus of almost every diet. But the diet industry makes money off people consistently failing to make the decisions to lose weight. Why is failure so rampant?

For me, it comes down to the difference between short term and long term incentives. Losing weight is the result of good decisions over a period of time. But breaking a diet feels good right now. And people tend to prefer short term rewards over long term ones, even when they know the long term rewards are more valuable.

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My vice is sweets. If there is a cookie in front of me, I have a tough time saying no to immediate deliciousness. It’s not as if I avoid cookies today I’ll wake up thin tomorrow.

I made this very decision on Friday. In large numbers. I was running a bake sale at work. There were cookies on my desk all day. And baklava. And matcha banana bread. And rice krispies.

So I ate a lot of sweets.

When I got home I didn’t just feel guilty; I physically felt gross. My calorie intake at work was 90% sugar and butter.

On the other hand, when I leave a restaurant having chosen a salad over a creamy pasta, I physically feel good. No heaviness or impending food coma. Think about how productive you are when you eat a salad at lunch versus a burger and fries.

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The feel-good benefit of choosing a salad is not as immediate as choosing something less healthy (immediate satisfaction) but it’s close (feeling good immediately post-meal).

Plus, there’s research to show that when you eat healthier (less refined sugar, good balance of vegetables, grains, protein) over time, the short term feel-good benefits translate into long term benefits: increased energyhappiness (and of course, overall health).

So instead of looking at my food choices from a ‘what will help me lose weight?’ perspective, I am shifting to ‘what will make me feel good when I am done eating?’

This shift brings the reward closer in time (right after eating) while also encouraging me to eat the healthy choice.

It does take a bit of willpower. It still means forgoing the cookie/burger (sigh). But it doesn’t mean forging a cookie in favor of abs which may or may not appear by May (which takes all the willpower). It means forgoing the cookie to feel good about my decision an hour from now. And thats something my willpower can tackle.

Food question Short term benefit Long term benefit
What will make me thin? Low High
What will taste best? High Low
What will make me feel good right after? Med High

 

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