Food Tips

These Two Little Words Can Stop Cravings

When it comes to resisting sweet treats, exactly how you say no can make all the difference

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen

At the bank, on your coworker’s desk, throughout the grocery store, in your own pantry: It seems like treats are everywhere you look, especially when you’re trying really hard to eat healthier. Resisting all that temptation can be exhausting and frustrating.

But scientists have found that making one tiny tweak to how you say no to treats can amp up your willpower and make you feel better about your decision. It’s all about the soft sell, according to a new study published the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Instead of telling yourself (or someone else) “nope, never again,” simply switch your response to “maybe later.” Scientists call this tactic “unspecific postponement”—all it means is that you’ll consider it the future but not right now. That way your brain doesn’t freak out and make you want to eat all the cake righthissecond, and you feel happier about your choice because you’re just delaying the treat, not forbidding it.

To see if unspecific postponement works better than a hard no or straight-up willpower, the researchers asked subjects what was most tempting to them personally and then put it in front of them. They found that the people who said “I can have it some other time” not only didn’t eat it then but it reduced their consumption of that food for a week afterward.

There were two factors that helped the trick work even better: if it was the participant’s choice (rather than the researchers forcing them to do it) and if the person was highly motivated to avoid said temptation.

This idea of avoiding absolutes is a good reminder, especially as so many of us are making hard and fast rules for New Year’s resolutions. If you want to eat healthy for the long haul—and you do, right?—take it slow, be gentle with yourself, and tell yourself you can always have that treat another time.

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