healthy meals

Photo: jenifoto/istockphoto

3 of 5
Shifting Your Focus in One Small Way Could Make a Big Difference

The big picture: No surprise that people with high self-control are more likely to reach their weight-loss goals, but a key element of their success is focusing on what they should eat while dieting instead of what they shouldn't.

The science: Baylor University researchers measured subjects' self-control and then asked them to list any food rules they try to follow while dieting and foods they felt they should avoid and those they should consume as part of a healthy diet, in a study published this past summer. "We found that people with high self-esteem approach weight-loss goals in a systemically different way," says lead author Meredith David, PhD, an assistant professor of marketing at Baylor's Hankamer School of Business, in Waco, Texas. They're all about what healthy foods they should eat more of, not which treats and food groups are off-limits. Plus, when they were asked which foods they should avoid on a healthful diet, they didn't list their favorites–they came up with foods they could cut out without making them feel deprived, unlike low-self-control people, who tended to put their absolute favorite foods in the "off-limits" category. (We all know how that usually turns out.)

What it means for you: Even if self-control is not your strong suit, by thinking about eating more of the healthful foods you like rather than shunning the foods you really love, you'll naturally start to crowd out the less nutritionally wise choices.