Action Movies and Exercise Could Ruin Your Diet

Making food choices when you're amped up could be a gut buster

You may want to avoid the snack aisle if you go grocery shopping after an intense work-out and keep away from the kitchen if you're watching an action movie on TV. New research finds that when we're overly excited or stimulated it can lower our resistance to tempting treats.

In general, happier people make better and healthier decisions than unhappy people, say Alexander Fedorikhin and Vanessa Patrick, marketing professors at Indiana University and the University of Houston, respectively, who authored the study in the Journal of Consumer Research. But certain types of arousal can make people more likely to indulge in unhealthy food choices.

In their study, participants were asked to watch either an uplifting, calm movie clip or a positive but rousing one. Everyone was offered a cup of M&Ms or a cup of grapes after the viewing. People who watched the stimulating movie were much more likely to choose the M&Ms over the grapes than were those who watched the calming one. And when people who watched the soothing film did pick the M&Ms, they ate much less of them.

The researchers found that mental exhaustion can also sabotage your efforts to be nutritionally virtuous. They asked half of the group to remember a seven-digit number, while the other half only had to remember two digits. Those who had to memorize the longer number also chose M&Ms.

"In order to resist temptations and make choices that are healthy and have long-term benefits, a person needs to be both in a positive frame of mind and have the available mental energy needed to make good choices," the authors said in a statement.

Similar research by psychologist Roy Baumeister, Ph.D., suggests that willpower is like a muscle; it weakens after you use it. So you’ll be more likely to splurge on a slice of pizza after you’ve forced yourself to work out, or spend money on a new dress after you said no to the Oreos that you really wanted to eat. If you’re consciously trying to be good, says Baumeister, it’s only a matter of time before your will weakens.

The trick then, it would seem, is to get to a point where all those healthy choices aren’t so much of an effort, but more a way of life. For me, I know diets don’t work. The minute I tell myself I can’t have something, I want it more than I’ve ever wanted it before. Even if that something is a three-day-old, rock-hard bagel. So I’ve erased the word “diet” from my vocabulary, and will eat pizza or pan-fried Thai noodles or cookies when I want. And somehow I don’t seem to overindulge, or even crave junk food all that often. Sure, maybe after a long day at work, when I’m too tired to cook, I’ll break down. But I refuse to feel guilty about it. Guilt takes up mental energy, after all. And if I have any hope of choosing a healthy lifestyle, well, I better not deplete my reserves.

What treats do you find hardest to resist? Chime in below!

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