Lay’s Sour Cream & Onion chips. Heluva Good! chip dip. Honey crueller doughnuts. Ice cream — any flavour. Jelly beans. Double Stuf Oreos. Cool Ranch Doritos. Smartfood popcorn. This is just the beginning of a list of foods I try to not keep in the house, despite my fondness for them, because I just don’t have the self-control to eat merely a bite. Or two. Or half a bag, if things get ugly.
Instead, I exercise my self-control in the grocery store, where I choose to quickly push my cart by these items, pretending they’re not there. Instead I pick up my coffee, cereal, zero-fat Greek yogurt and water-packed tuna.
As it turns out, keeping these items out of my cupboards and fridge helps keep my mood in check. Because if we’re watching what we eat and have to make a more direct, healthful choice — such as choosing to snack on berries over chips while watching 30 Rock — this type of self-control can make us angry and cranky towards others, discovered Wendy Liu, a researcher with the University of California and David Gal, a Northwestern University-based researcher.
Their study “The Grapes of Wrath: The Angry Effects of Self Control”, which appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research, was designed to look at whether practicing self-control led to angry behaviours, subtle or overt. And they discovered that anger has a sort of snowball effect — in one of the four experiments conducted, people who chose to eat an apple, rather than a chocolate bar, wanted to watch an angry movie vs. a non-angry movie afterward. In a second experiment, people were asked to pick a gift certificate for groceries or spa services. Those who chose groceries opted to look at angry faces when given a choice of facial expressions to look at.
“Now we believe the anger that we detected in our studies are relatively mild,” notes Liu. “Although in real life they maybe more severe if the self-control conflict is greater.”
So what does this mean to us? As Liu suggests, playing keep-away with favourite foods might actually be one way to manage your mood if you are trying to eat more healthfully. “So one take away from this research is that we should try to manage a healthier lifestyle through other means and not rely on self-control and willpower alone,” says Liu. “This includes to try to avoid self-control dilemmas in the first place — so don’t stock your fridge with ice cream, for example. Because once you have ice cream in your fridge, not eating it will make you angry.”
Sigh. And so on I walk past the Doritos and Smartfood…