Mental budget helps curb overeating

By Sheryl Kay • Published: February 10th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The holidays have come and gone. But all too many of us now confront those added inches and tighter belt loops and wonder what we might do next year to avoid the weight gain.

A recent study shows that several bases need to be covered, including formulating a mental food budget. We’re not talking dollars here, but a preconceived specific way to number and count how much we should be eating.

Appearing in the Journal of Consumer Research, the study investigated the disconnect that occurs when individuals state certain weight goals for themselves, yet don’t maintain the proper diet to achieve their goals. By collecting eating behavior data from individuals who were encouraged to form mental budgets as well as from those who had no such limits, scientists noted several distinct similarities.

First, while it was important to begin with a mental budget, that alone was insufficient to curb overeating. Participants also needed to have an ongoing commitment to give up fattening foods. Also, the information about the food items being consumed by the individuals needed to match the units of the mental budgets. For example, if a person was following a mental budget specified in calories, then overeating was best reduced when the foods purchased had the exact calories listed. And mental budgets were most effective when participants adhered to precise numerical recommendations, like calories, or dietary point-based programs.

The scientists recommended that individuals adopt a mental budget that will serve as a limit rather than as a carte blanche to consume more.