Overcoming Impulsivity to Improve Weight Loss

Posted: Sep 11 in Weight loss, Weight Management Strategies by

One of the biggest hurdles people face when trying to keep weight off is impulsivity. Think of impulsivity as your ability to resist things in the moment – the bowl of chips on the table at a restaurant, the container of ice cream in the refrigerator, the candy drawer at work.

A new study looks at this topic. In this study, 40 people were given a either a hard or easy computer-based task for 6 hours, and then evaluated for their ability to resist impulsive decisions. People faced with the hard task had a much harder time resisting impulsivity than those with the easy task. When asked questions like, “Would you rather have $10 now, or have $50 transferred to your bank account tomorrow” they would choose the smaller reward.

Researchers found that the harder participants thought, the higher their levels of glutamate, a neurotransmitter involved in memory and learning.

This study suggests that after a long period of thinking hard, glutamate accumulates triggering a response in the brain making it hard for the front of the brain to control the back of the brain, resulting in making impulsive rather than strategic choices. The study also showed that people were not good at judging their levels of fatigue.

I guess a good analogy is that after a long, stressful day at work, you don’t come home craving a salad! We reach for the chips, peanut butter, ice cream…

So what can we do to improve our resistance to impulsive urges? Try these tips:

Tips to keep weight off by overcoming impulsivity

  1. Take breaks – when working hard, people tend to try to work through the fatigue. Invariably this leads to poorer performance and exhaustion. Instead, try and take short breaks – get up, walk with a friend, play a short card game, have a glass of water. True rest helps!
  2. Sleep! Evidence suggests that glutamate is eliminated from synapses during sleep.
  3. Find work you enjoy – evidence suggests that people are less exhausted if the work is something they actually enjoy. If you have an assignment from your boss that you can’t stand, perhaps brainstorm for a task you will find more enjoyable.
  4. Environmental restructuring – because your willpower will be the weakest after a long day at work, structure your environment so that if you engage in impulsive behavior, the easy to reach things won’t be chips and peanut butter. Leave an inviting bowl of fruit on the counter. Get the junk out of the house. Have single serving cheese sticks, olives, etc. ready to go instead of junk food. Make the default choice a healthy choice.
  5. Watch the alcohol – have you ever noticed when eating out how quickly the waitstaff gets alcoholic beverages in front of their guests? That’s because they know that the sooner you start drinking, the lower your resistance to impulsivity and the more food you will order. Don’t order alcohol when you sit down at restaurants until you have had at least one full glass of water AND placed your order for food. AND, don’t let them put the chips or bread on the table!  


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