Forget food as a reward, give yourself a prize
A new study suggests that the brain can react to inedible prizes in the same way as when it’s presented with typical comfort foods or sweets.
The majority of children and adults chose a half-sized portion paired with a toy or monetary prize over a full-sized portion without a toy or monetary prize, according to a news release. Researchers said these small prizes may be enough motivation to keep people from overeating.
“People choose to eat unhealthy foods, sometimes in large quantities, for a variety of reasons,” says Tricia Ligon, manager of the Advocate Medical Group Weight Management Program at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “Diverting part of that urge to eat could help with weight management and overall health.”
Study participants were even more likely to choose a smaller portion when a potential small prize – or a chance to win – was included. Researchers compared the result to the excitement people feel when gambling or engaging in sports.
“While the uncertain possibility of a reward can cause anxiety for some, it can be a thrill for others,” Ligon says. “In terms of physical health, replacing food with an inedible reward like an outing to the movies or a new shirt can have many benefits.”
Ligon also cautions that replacing unhealthy food with an unhealthy habit can be just as dangerous.
She offers the following tips to prevent overeating:
- Learn to recognize when you’re full. Pause before taking another bite and consult your stomach – it actually sends neurological signals to your brain to let you know when you’ve had enough – and oftentimes our portions are larger than the amount of food people actually need.
- Make sure you’re eating because you’re hungry. Sometimes people are tempted to eat when they feel bored, sad or stressed out. Instead of seeking short-term happiness from your favorite dessert, call a friend or family member you’ve been meaning to catch up with or tackle something on your to-do list.
- Incorporate activities and exercise into your daily routine. While you can’t outrun a poor meal plan or bad eating habits, being active and exercising helps reduce stress and is beneficial to your overall health.
“Although these tips can be useful, don’t forget to reward yourself every now and then with whatever makes you happy,” says Ligon. “Ultimately, living a healthy, balanced life can contribute to overall wellness and contentment.”
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