Successful Dieting in Tempting Environments: Mission Impossible?

Implementation intentions are behavioral plans which specify the when, were, and how of what one will do to reach a certain goal. Forming such detailed intentions greatly facilitates goal attainment (Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006). In the Van Koningsbruggen et al. (2010) study, participants formed implementation intentions for several palatable food items (e.g., cookies). Participants in the implementation intentions condition were asked “Please tell yourself: The next time that I am tempted to eat cookies, then I will think of dieting!” Participants then repeated this action for four other food items. Control participants did not form these plans. Results demonstrated that, after two weeks, unsuccessful dieters consumed less of the foodstuffs after this specific act of planning than their unsuccessful counterparts in the control condition.


We reviewed research on the psychological processes underlying the failures and successes of dieters in resisting food temptations. In fact, in our Western food-rich environments we are surrounded by cues signaling palatable food making it far from easy for dieters to ward off all temptations. At the same time, research suggests that it is not a mission impossible for all dieters. What is on the dieter’s mind in tempting situations determines the success rate. If the dieter is consumed by thoughts of how delicious the food will be, the dieter will fail. But if the dieter manages to keep his or her long-term dieting goal in mind, he or she greatly improves the chance of success. Indeed, simple reminders of one’s diet (e.g., through exposure to a health magazine or a plan to think about your diet in tempting situations) can lead to success. Perhaps, the alleged mission impossible of exerting self-control in food-rich environments will be completed by more and more dieters after all.


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