If You Want to Eat Less Junk Food... Serve It to Yourself?

A new study suggests that dishing up your own unhealthy foods in social settings might actually help you eat less of 'em.

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So you did everything you could to set yourself up for weight-loss success at the start of this year: You removed the not-so-good-for-you foods from your kitchen to help you resist temptation, started sleeping in your workout clothes to help you go to morning workouts, and even began prepping meals on Sundays to make healthy choices easy choices for the rest of the week. But then you went to a family dinner and slipped up as soon as Aunt Mona handed you that second slice of pie.

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What is it about eating with other people that makes us fall off the diet wagon every. single. time? Turns out it might not be so much of a what as a who: According to a new study of nearly 800 participants that's set to be published in the Journal of Marketing Research later this year, one strategy for eating less junk food might be serving junk food to yourself in social settings.

It sounds a little strange (we're supposed to be serving ourselves the bad stuff?), but hear the researchers out: In one of five experiments included in the study, researchers set out a snack table for 189 participants who were waiting to be called into another room for an unrelated study. First, the researchers set out Reese's Pieces candies pre-portioned into individual cups; then, they set out the Reese's Pieces candies in a large bowl from which the participants had to serve themselves. When the candies were served to the participants in the small cups, 32 percent of them indulged. But when the participants had to scoop the candies out of the bowl themselves, none of them did.

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The study researchers think we may be more inclined to eat poorly when other people are serving us because it's easier for us to indulge when we can push off the responsibility for our unhealthy choices onto someone else. "We suggest that this behavior occurs because being less physically involved in serving one's food allows participants to reject responsibility for unhealthy eating, and thus to feel better about themselves following indulgent consumption," they wrote.

Interestingly, the study authors found that the same blame game didn't occur when it came to healthy foods — when the Reese's Pieces were replaced with pieces of dried fruit, participants were neither more nor less likely to take and eat the snack if if the portions were decided for them or if they served it to themselves.

So although these findings don't mean you should eat whatever you want as long as you serve it to yourself, they do provide a pretty simple strategy to help you avoid overeating at social gatherings.

[h/t Science of Us]

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