You want another slice of cake or glass of wine, but you know you shouldn’t have one.
It’s the classic self-control dilemma.
But luckily there’s a loophole; sometimes we mentally give ourselves permission to indulge: “Well, I’ve worked hard today, so I’ll have another slice of cake or glass of wine.”
Now there’s a ‘license to sin’.
A recent study cleverly demonstrates this ‘license to sin’ and shows how dangerous it can be (de Witt Huberts et al., 2012).
A little snack
To investigate, the researchers tricked one group of people into thinking they’d worked twice as hard on a boring test as another group.
Both groups were then asked to do a ‘taste test’ of some rather tempting looking snacks.
The group that thought they’d worked harder now had more of a ‘license to sin’ as a reward to themselves.
And sure enough they ate, on average, 130 calories more in 10 minutes than the other group.
It’s fascinating that the participants did this without being told they’d worked harder or being given any other cues.
Also remember that, on average, both groups had their mental self-control muscles depleted the same amount as they’d both spent the same time doing the boring task.
Avoid the loophole
What this study is showing is that these well-worn mental thought processes can be insidious. The mind has all sorts of tricks it plays so that it can get what it wants.
The ‘license to sin’ is one of them. You want to over-indulge, so your mind creates this little story that says: I’ve worked hard, so I deserve it.
The clever thing is that it can completely bypass all those logical, rational things we’ve told ourselves about healthy eating (or whatever it is) and, non-coincidentally, we get what we want.
None of this is to say that we shouldn’t indulge ourselves from time-to-time, but the question is: how often is the license to sin being invoked?
It’s a way of allowing our misbehaviour that is like an exception we all know about, but somehow don’t pull ourselves up on.
Being more aware of, and watching out for this trick may be useful in bolstering our self-control.
By Suz Redfearn WebMD Feature Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH
Move over, Martha Stewart! Ready to cement your status as a legendary host or hostess? Here are 10 surefire ways to have folks vying for an invite to your holiday party.
1. Offer a signature drink with a small amount of alcohol and a lot of low- or no-calorie mixer. Alcohol, the center of many a holiday party, can derail your guests’ efforts to stay healthy. Not only is it packed with empty calories, it can also lower their control, increasing the chances they ditch their diet and overdo it at the buffet table.
You don’t have to go with grog or nog – a low-cal wine spritzer can work just as well, says Bethany Thayer, director of the Henry Ford Health System’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Detroit.
Mix up some wine with club soda or diet citrus soda, add a splash of low-cal juice (think cranberry), and a pretty piece of fruit, like a raspberry. Give it a festive name, and it’s a win for you and your guests.
2. Set out only teeny-tiny plates. That way, your guests can’t possibly load up with piles and piles of food; it’s just not physically possible, says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, registered dietitian and president of Nutrition Today with Amy J.
Throwing a dinner party? Go old school. Use 8-inch plates. “The holidays are a great time to use that vintage china, since plates used to be much smaller!” Jamieson-Petonic says.
3. Skip the chips, scale back the dips. Make vegetables – not chips – the star of your tablescape by cutting them into fun shapes or offering them on skewers. “Not only will the water content of the veggies start to make guests feel full, all that chewing will slow them down,” Thayer says. Just make sure you don’t derail healthy effects of eating veggies by providing high-fat, high-calorie dips for appetizers.
4. Create a food-free zone. If your party isn’t a seated meal, serve food in one room only, leaving the rest of your home free for socializing.
If guests have to stand and stare at the food while they’re talking, they’re much more likely to get seconds, thirds, or more. But if they take one plate and relocate to a distant room, they are apt to get chatty and forget about refilling their plates.
5. Serving protein? Go lean. Consider fish or turkey for your main dish. Both are lean sources of protein that can easily carry a feast. If you opt for turkey, be sure to avoid skin. And choose a low-fat cooking method. Roast it on a rack, Thayer says, and the majority of the fat just drips away.
6. Bring on the beans. Beans are chock-full of fiber and plant protein and can help guests fill up fast, Jamieson-Petonic says. Instead of cooking them with meat, which ups the fat content and drives away vegetarians, Thayer suggests using liquid smoke – look for it in the grocery store near the barbecue sauce – to infuse beans with a deep, almost meaty flavor.
7. Deconstruct that casserole. “Casseroles are the very definition of comfort, but they’re often loaded with things like sodium, heavy cream, butter, and cheese,” Jamieson-Petonic says. Instead of baking a traditional casserole, serve a dish that lets the main ingredient go solo. Broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, sweet peppers, butternut or acorn squash, and Brussels sprouts are just as delicious when prepared a different way. Bake or steam the veggies, then flavor with lemon juice, pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or even spices like curry or ginger.
8. Go green. Offer a gorgeous salad filled with spinach rather than plain ol’ lettuce, Jamieson-Petonic says. That way your guests can fill up on a food source rich in fiber, vitamin C, potassium, iron, and calcium.
Make your own simple, low-calorie dressing from olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, and lemon juice; then toss with toasted pecans, lighter cheeses (like feta), tangerine slices, apples, pears, and dried fruit. The result: a festive salad that your guests will enjoy and remember.
9. Shrink the desserts. A holiday party just isn’t right without tempting desserts. So don’t skip the treats, Thayer says – just offer very small portions. That way your guests can taste a little bit of everything.
Consider making many of those desserts fruit-based. “Don’t underestimate fruit and its place at the dessert table,” she says. “Dishes like an apple baked with lots of cinnamon can look great and taste amazing.”
10. Keep ’em movin’. Give your guests something to do, Thayer says. It’s better for circulation, digestion, and calorie-burning than standing – or sitting – around. Consider a game of charades or a scavenger hunt. Clear an area for dancing, or dust off that foosball or pool table. If it’s warm outside, offer bocce ball or horseshoes. Organize guests into teams and stage a competition – anything to keep them off the sofa.