Friends and environment influence food choices even when self-control is strong


If you're trying to follow a specific diet or stay on track with your weight, it might be wise to stay away from those friends who like pizza and beer.

A new study from U.K. researchers found that social and environmental factors can make people "cheat" when they're on weight management programs, and that people will lapse a little over 50 percent of the time when they're faced with temptations.

Social situations affect decisions

Participants in the study were given mobile phones on which to keep electronic "diaries" of their eating habits and temptations over a one-week period.

Results showed that subjects were more likely to give in to alcoholic temptations than to eat sugary snacks or to overindulge in food, the researchers reported. Willpower also seemed to be compromised when participants were in the presence of others, regardless of whether the subjects anticipated a dietary temptation to be present.

"The findings help piece together the complex jigsaw surrounding the daily predictors of dietary temptations and help us to better understand how dietary temptations and lapses operate," said study author Heather McKee, from the University of Birmingham.

The stronger the temptation, the study found, the more likely a person was to indulge. Yet the silver lining was that participants said they were more aware of their eating behaviors when they kept the diaries – suggesting that mobile phone tracking could be a useful support tool for people on weight-management programs.

Reinforcing coping mechanisms important for success

The study also stressed that, after a lapse, helping a participant use coping mechanisms to get back on track was key. Reinforcing the belief that goals are achievable, despite setbacks, is crucial for continued success in dieting, McKee noted.

"In the fight against obesity, we need to help people become more aware of the various personal, situational, and environmental factors that expose them to dietary temptations," she said. "In doing this, we can help them to develop the necessary skills to cope successfully with dietary temptations and prevent lapses."

The study is published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

Source: Science Daily


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