Diet and Nutrition

"Weight" for It - Delayed Gratification Supports Long Term Weight Loss

Snack strategy: postpone the craving

Sounds simple enough. Postpone eating the snack you are craving and the craving pass. But does that help lose weight?  If we put off eating the food we are craving, will we experience weight loss? Studies show that those who avoid a snack when they crave for it will have less and less desire for it. “They are able to delay snacking," says researcher Nicole Mead Ph.D., an assistant professor at Catolica-Lisbon School of Business and Economics in Portugal. In this particular study, the  participants started eating less of this snack over the week following the initial craving. How long should one postpone eating the desired snack? Postpone it to some indefinite and vague time in future so that the desire disappears.

There are two choices when cravings hit – giving in or resisting the temptation, especially when it comes to sugary or salty snacks of little nutritional value. Giving in to cravings makes you feel guilty, while resisting them makes you feel deprived. But when a person postpones eating the snack to some ‘later’ time, it helps avoid this mental conflict.

In the study, the postpone strategy was tested using different snack foods. Men and women were divided into three groups. All the groups were allowed to watch a film clip during which a bowl of candies was kept in front of them. The participants were unaware of the objective of the study. The three groups were informed of the following:

  • One group was informed to eat the candies
  • Second group was instructed not to eat the candies
  • Third group was told that they could have the candies later

After the film clip viewing, they were asked questions which were not related to the film or the food.  All three groups were then allowed to eat the candies, with the number of candies eaten tallied by the researchers. The group who were told not to eat the candies ate the most number of candies, while those who were allowed to eat or postpone it ate only half of that amount. The least amount of candy-eating was observed in the group that was asked to postpone eating to a later time.

Nighttime cravings

The researchers also measured the chocolate consumption of the participants over the following week. The postponing group had chocolate only once after the experiment. The group who were asked to eat it freely ate three times more than the postponing group, while the group who could eat freely ate four-and-half times more.

Dr. Mead also wanted to see whether the same results would be obtained if the participants were allowed to choose the strategy.  Students were given a big bag of chips and randomly assigned to a group or allowed to choose their strategy. The three strategies from which they could choose include:

  • Eat freely if you wish
  • Do not eat the chips at all
  • Don’t eat them now, but you can eat it later

Whether chosen or randomly assigned, those who were in the postponing group ate the least amount of chips. Moreover, they ate a far smaller amount of chips in the following week. The members of the group who could eat it freely had nearly four times more, while those who were not allowed to eat consumed 4.5 times more.

Dr. Mead adds that postponing gives time for the mind to relax and avoid the conflict between guilt and feelings of being deprived. To be effective, postponing should not be for a specific time, like 4 o'clock.

Brian Wansink Ph.D., John S. Dyson professor of marketing at Cornell University and a long time researcher of eating habits, claims that the most important factor is to postpone eating without telling the mind. He had also conducted a similar study in which participants were told to postpone to a particular time. He noted that participants were not able to take their eyes off the clock and had weakened concentration. He suggests that postponing snacking to an indefinite time can help control body weight, and that when possible snacks should be replaced by healthier alternatives.