Overcoming unhealthy eating habits can be a challenge but, to get over it, occasional cheating helps.
A new study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology finds that planning "hedonic deviations," or giving in to your impulse to eat that doughnut or waste five hours on Netflix, can actually help you stay motivated and stick to your long-term goals.
In one test, almost 60 college students ran through a virtual diet simulation. Some were told they could eat 1,500 calories a day for a week, while others were told they could eat 1,300 calories a day, except for the seventh day, on which they could eat up to 2,700 calories.
Another test with more than 30 volunteers followed a two-week diet while keeping a food diary, then came back in for a follow-up assessment a month later. Again, some people were told they could eat 1,500 calories a day, and others were told they could eat less on most days, but have whatever they liked on Sundays.
The latter group showed more motivation at the end of the diet compared to the continuous goal-striving control group. The straight goal-striving group showed decreases in their ability to self-regulate by the end, while the intermittent break dieters felt more positive about the diet at the end of the study than the control volunteers.
All of those things help with "long-term adherence," which in turn helps with "final goal attainment."