Focusing on Eating Healthy Foods You Enjoy May Be Your Path To More Successful Dieting Interview with:
Meredith E. David
Marketing Department
Hankamer School of Business
Baylor University
Waco, TX 76798 What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: In the midst of the ongoing “obesity epidemic” in the United States and many other developed nations, programs and advice abound for encouraging individuals to manage their health and well-being through changes in food consumption. One common approach resurfaces time and time again: suggesting to the would-be dieter what foods they should avoid eating (e.g., “The following 10 foods should never be eaten . . . ,”) and/or what foods they should eat (e.g., “10 foods everyone should include in a healthy diet,”). Our research investigates the commonly heralded advice given to consumers to either focus on avoiding unhealthy foods, such as cake, or approaching and consuming healthy foods, such as kale. We demonstrate important differences in the implementation of and outcomes of these approach versus avoidance strategies for meeting one’s health-related goals.

Individuals who have high self-control are generally better at reaching their goals. We investigate how individuals with varying levels of general self-control differ in the way that they apply approach and avoidance dieting strategies. Our findings, as detailed below, reveal a novel explanation of the better outcomes observed by individuals who are generally more successful in their goal pursuit. The key findings are as follows:

When asked to list any specific rules they might use to guide their food consumption,

  • Low self control individuals tended to list mainly rules that involved things they should avoid
  • High self control individuals tended to list rules that involved things they should approach/consume

When thinking of foods to avoid as a part of a diet,

  • Low self control individuals think of foods that they really like (i.e., their favorite snacks, most tempting items)
  • High elf control individuals think of foods that they like but could reasonably forgo (i.e., not their favorite treats)

When thinking of foods to approach and consume as a part of a diet,

  • Low self control individuals think of foods they do not like; that is, they think of unappetizing but healthy foods (e.g., oatmeal)
  • High self control individuals think of foods they enjoy eating; that is, they think of yummy, healthy foods (e.g., strawberries)

Overall, our findings reveal that, in coming up with plans to enhance one’s health and well-being, low SC individuals tend to set themselves up for harder pathway to success. Specifically, these individuals focus on temptations, whereas, those individuals who are generally more successful at goal pursuit tend to develop more motivating plans regarding the inclusion of healthy, well-liked items (and the exclusion of unhealthy items that are not one’s favorites). What should readers take away from your report?

Response: In developing health goals, many people unintentionally use strategies that set themselves up more a more difficult path to success. Our research shows how individuals can design strategies which foster success. Although many dieters often focus on avoiding the unhealthy foods that they love most, our research shows that strategies such as this are unlikely to be effective. Approach-framed strategies (i.e., focusing on what one should include in their diet) are more likely to be effective, and particularly when individuals focus on healthy foods they really like (e.g., strawberries). What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Based on our findings, it would be interesting for future research to explore other possible interventions designed to enhance approach and avoidance strategies and help individuals be more effective in their goal pursuit.

Future research should also examine goal pursuit strategies that involve both approach and avoidance characteristics. For example, individuals often set goals for themselves and utilize a combination of approach and avoidance rules, such as “to exercise more and eat less fast food,” or even to “eat more healthy foods and cut back on unhealthy foods.” It would be helpful to understand the effectiveness of mixed strategies such as these, especially in comparison to approach-only strategies. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: The next time you decide to go on a diet, focus on eating healthy foods that you enjoy. You may find that after enjoying a bowl of fresh strawberries, you’re no longer wanting that chocolate cake. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


David, Meredith E. AU – Haws, Kelly L. TI – Saying “No” to Cake or “Yes” to Kale: Approach and Avoidance Strategies in Pursuit of Health Goals JO – Psychology & Marketing JA – Psychol. Mark. VL – 33 IS – 8 SN – 1520-6793 UR – DO – 10.1002/mar.20901 SP – 588 EP – 594 PY – 2016 ER –

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on August 16, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD