The Chips Test
Mead wanted to see if she would get the same results if she allowed people to choose their strategy. She gave 105 high school students in the Netherlands, average age 15, each a bag of chips. They were randomly assigned to an eating strategy or told to choose their own.
The three strategies:
- Eat the chips now if you wish.
- Do not eat the chips.
- Don't eat them now, but you can eat them later.
The postponing group ate the least amount of chips, whether they were assigned to that group or chose it, Mead found.
They ate the least amount of chips over the week that followed, too, she says. Those in the postpone group had chips about 2.4 times in the next week. Those in the group told to eat freely had them nearly four times. Those in the group told not to eat chips had them 4.5 times.
"This one-minute manipulation lasted seven days," Mead says.
Postponing: Why It May Work
The postponing gives the mind a cooling-off period, Mead says. It may also take you out of conflict mode, torn between feeling guilty and feeling deprived.
However, she believes the postponement must be nonspecific. Not "I'll have that candy at 3 p.m.," but "I'll have the candy later if I want it."
Postponing Strategy: Second Opinion
The key may be postponing without telling yourself when, says Brian Wansink, PhD, John S. Dyson professor of marketing at Cornell University. He is a long-time researcher on eating behavior.
He wasn't involved in the Mead study, but he tested the postpone strategy some years ago.
He told people to postpone to a specific time, and he gave up on that research, he tells WebMD. "It worked OK for people who weren't that eager to have a food," he says. But it didn't seem to combat strong cravings.
Some participants, he remembers, were then watching the clock and thinking of nothing else but the food they craved.
Mead's strategy of postponing to some undefined time in the future, he says, might work well for those who want to watch their weight and avoid certain foods. During postponement, he says, they may actually substitute a healthier food.