“one way to motivate a switch is to shrink the change, which makes people feel “big” relative to the challenge.” ―
While shrinking the commitment is primarily used to start good habits, it can also be a tool to break bad ones. To break a bad habit, we use it as a delaying strategy. We can avoid overeating by delaying our consumption. Say to yourself, “I am going to drink a glass of water and wait for 5-minutes. If I am still hungry, I can have a little more.” Physiologically, you are giving your body more time to register that it is full and hydrated. Psychologically, you are making the reward less desirable.
It is much easier to convince yourself to wait for 5-minutes than to deny the craving with an uncompromising no. When we give our Elephant a hard no, it will fixate on eating. The Elephant will struggle against the Rider to reassert its autonomy. More often than not, it will be the Elephant that wins any tug-of-war between our goals and desires. Our goals reside in our quickly exhausted prefrontal cortex, while our desires reside in our resilient primitive brain. Even if your Rider manages to win, it will be left depleted and more vulnerable to the next temptation.
We avoid this exhausting struggle by asking our Elephant to wait instead. Our reward system is biased towards immediate gratification. It discounts any reward that takes even a few minutes. Use this bias to your advantage. Waiting takes the immediate out of immediate gratification. After waiting for a few minutes, your Rider will have a much better chance of convincing your Elephant to pass on the food altogether. Eating slowly and utilizing this tactic will improve your self-control.
Appetite is often stimulated by dehydration. Another cause of overeating is a delay in satiety, which takes 20 to 30 minutes to register. For this reason, I suggest you eat your meals slowly. Taking a sip of water between bites and savoring each mouthful. A 2008 study published in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that when subjects consumed their meals slowly, they ate significantly fewer calories, felt fuller, and drank significantly more water than when they ate at a faster rate.[i]
Even if you decide to give in to the temptation at the end of the five minutes, you have strengthened your willpower and increased your awareness. Both benefits will improve your odds of success when the next temptation arises. The worst thing we can do is become overly critical of ourselves because that will lead to stress eating.
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[i] Ana M. Andrade,, Andrade, Geoffrey W. Greene, PhD, RD, Kathleen J. Melanson, PhD, RD, Eating Slowly Led to Decreases in Energy Intake within Meals in Healthy Women, American Dietetic Association, July 2008Volume 108, Issue 7, Pages 1186–1191.