Q&A: Full of excuses


Another study flushed out a different kind of justification. Dieters invited to a ‘consumer research taste test’ were all weighed beforehand, and half of them were told they weighed 5 lbs (2.27 kg) more than they actually did. They were given this false reading to see if it made any difference to the amounts they ate… and it did. Those who were led to believe they weighed more than expected ate significantly more food during the ‘taste test’ than the other group. The researchers called this justification the ‘what-the-hell’ effect. (2)

Yet another study gave a group of dieters the impression they were doing well in their goal of losing weight, comparing their behaviour with a control group who were given no such impression. Offered a choice between an apple and a chocolate bar, 85% of those who believed they had made good progress chose the chocolate, compared with 58% of the others. The researchers wrote, ‘The more progress was perceived, the more likely are people to choose inconsistent activities.’ This effect was seen, not only with progress that seemed to have been achieved, but also with achievements that were expected in the future. (3)

We all do this – not just you! Have compassion for yourself for thinking in an addictive way about food. Instead of seeing it as a problem (perhaps a sign of greed, weakness or deception) you could regard it as evidence of your creativity and powerful survival drive.

It’s entirely possible you won’t notice your justifications at the time, and this is no problem. You can figure it out afterwards, and if it’s fairly frequent in your life you’ll have plenty of opportunity to do that. Just ask yourself later on, how did I justify eating that? There’s your justification identified and the next time you are in that situation, about to overeat, you are that much more likely to be aware of it.

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  1. Ursula

    Handy advice here, which I need at the moment! It’s that time of year where excuses abound – “What the hell, it’s Christmas” etc etc…. I’m aware of a real pull between thinking this, and not wanting to use it as an excuse for satisfying my addictive desire.

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