Excuses, excuses. If you think you’ve been good in the past, you allow yourself to behave badly in the future, finds new research in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
In other words, if you skipped out on that double bacon cheeseburger for dinner in favor of a salad, you believe it’s OK to have six beers tonight because it could have been worse. When study participants wrote down all the unhealthy things they could have done in the past week but decided not to, they didn’t work as hard to meet their weight-loss goals the next week.
“When people reflect on the unhealthy road not taken, they feel like they’ve proven that they’ve done a good job,” says study author Daniel Effron, Ph.D., of Northwestern University. “When they feel like they made progress, they think it gives them license to indulge in short-term pleasures.”
In a second study, people skipped out on unhealthy snack foods—and actually exaggerated how unhealthy those foods were—as a way to justify indulging in cookies. Effron says when people are tempted to cheat on their diets, they tend to inflate the “sinfulness” of foods they passed up.
Here’s one easy tip to quell temptation: get sweaty. Aerobic exercise can dampen your desire for the excess things you crave, like fast food, finds a 2012 study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.