Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Resisting the temptation of unhealthy food

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Resisting the temptation of unhealthy food:
What motivational processes are involved in resisting the temptation of eating unhealthy food?


Overview[edit | edit source]

Eating a healthy, balanced diet provides nutrients to your body. These nutrients give you energy and keep your heart beating, your brain active, and your muscles working (Smith, 2011). Eating unhealthy food is linked to many chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Despite this, many [who?] still choose unhealthy food sources over their healthy, nutritious whole food counterparts. Unhealthy food options are typically cheaper, processed and pre-packaged, making it easily available (Smith, 2011). However, there are several psychological motivators that influence people to choosing it[what?] over healthy food.

Key questions===
  • What is motivation?
  • What are the motivations in resisting the temptation of unhealthy food?
  • What should we learn from this for everyday life?

Why do people eat unhealthy food?[edit | edit source]

Defining temptation[edit | edit source]

Temptation can be characterised as the desire to perform an action that an individual may enjoy immediately or in the short-term but may regret later for various reasons[factual?]. It can also be characterised as preferences reflected by an individual’s behaviour resulting from short-term cravings (Loewenstein & Adler, 1995).

Resisting temptation can be extremely difficult. Failure to resist temptation can be due to many factors including environmental factors such as poor sleep habits, lack of motivation or because the long-term goal is often difficult to reach (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, & Tice, 1998).

Resisting temptation

There are many reasons why an individual may eat or desire unhealthy food{{example}. Hunger is the body’s way of making sure it is provided with energy, in the form of nutrients from food. When the stomach is empty, it releases the hormone ghrelin which communicates with the brain’s centre called the hypothalamus. This creates the feeling of hunger and is how we know when to eat. In contrast, satiation is signalled by the release of the hormone leptin by fat cells in the body, communicating in response to increased blood sugar (Smellie, 2011).

Satiation differs from food cravings, which can be defined as an overwhelming sensation or desire for a certain food. They are a psychological need for high-fat or high-sugar foods, which taste pleasant (Smellie, 2011)[Rewrite to improve clarity][grammar?]. There are numerous chemicals in the brain that are associated with this[for example?]. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is involved in regulating the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. Unhealthy food cravings can be associated with dopamine as the initial enjoyment of eating unhealthy foods will stimulate dopamine[factual?].

Another factor an individual may desire unhealthy food is stress[Rewrite to improve clarity]. The body produces a hormone called cortisol in response to stress. Its primary functions are to increase sugar in the blood to be used up as energy by the body’s cells, suppress the immune system and aid in fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism (Smellie, 2011). It also blocks the release of leptin, increasing hunger. Studies have shown that when people are stressed, they are more likely drawn towards high-energy foods, such as cakes and sweets (Drewnowski & Darmon, 2005). High levels of anxiety also cause people to seek out unhealthy food as a means of comfort[factual?]. When stressed, people look for ways to calm themselves, and high-energy food’s immediate positive effects on the reward centre of the brain make it a comforting go-to choice[factual?].

There is also evidence to suggest that sleep deprivation motivates people to choose unhealthy foods over healthy foods. When sleep is restricted, the primal reward centre of the brain becomes more active while executive functions of the frontal lobes become more suppressed (Drewnowski & Darmon, 2005). This effectively diminishes self-control, making people more likely to seek out foods high in fat and sugar.

What motivates people to eat healthy food?[edit | edit source]

Defining self-control[edit | edit source]

Self-control is one way of resisting temptation. It can be defined as overriding or inhibiting behaviours, urges, or desires that would otherwise interfere with goal-directed behaviour (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, & Tice, 1998). Without self-control, an individual would carry out his or her normal or automatic behaviour or engage in immediate, short-term focused actions, unable to delay immediate gratification (Shmueli & Prochaska, 2009). The ability to exercise self-control is critical for resisting the temptation of unhealthy food because choosing unhealthy food becomes an automatic pattern of behaviour and someone who typically eats unhealthy food and wishes to change it must exert self-control to resist that urge and break the habit[factual?].

Defining motivation[edit | edit source]

Motivation can be defined as the process that initiates, guides and maintains goal-oriented behaviours. It is what causes us to act and involves biological, emotional, social and cognitive forces that activate behaviour (Reeve, 2009). In order to achieve a specific goal, an individual must acquire the ability to persist through obstacles and endurance to keep going despite difficulties. Psychologists have proposed many theories to explain motivation.

The human brain needs a range of nutrients to function properly. Evidence suggests that eating a healthy, balanced diet provides nutrients to your body. (Smith, 2011). These nutrients give you energy and keep your heart beating, your brain active, and your muscles working. Nutrients also help build and strengthen bones, muscles and tendons as well as regulating body processes, such as blood pressure.

It is believed [factual?] that successful and sustained ability to resist temptation of unhealthy food depends on an individual’s willingness to undertake and maintain required behaviours. Sustained health behaviour change is the result of persistent self-control[factual?]. Through self-control, individuals are able to prevent a natural response from occurring and substitute another response in its place (Adriaanse, de Ridder & de Wit, 2009).

Surveys and studies have indicated there is not one single reason as to why individuals eat healthy food.[factual?] Some individuals have specific goals that motivate them such as “I want more energy”, “I want to look better in (or out) of my clothes” or wanting to look good for a particular event (Smith, 2011). Others take the opposite approach and focus on moving away from the negative; for example, “I don’t want to avoid the mirror anymore”, or “I don’t want to feel so tired all the time” (Smith, 2011).

An individual may also choose to eat healthy food to benefit their insides. Eating healthy allows the body to have what it needs to grow new cells and tissues, cleanse itself of toxins and overall functioning (Drewnowski & Darmon, 2005). It also allows our body to produce neurotransmitters such as endorphins, which triggers positive feelings. Furthermore, eating healthy helps to prevent diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and some cancers, even reducing cancer deaths by up to 35 percent (Smith, 2011).

Finally, besides the health benefits, studies have reported individuals eat healthy because it tastes good (Smith, 2011).

Examples of health risks[edit | edit source]

Obesity Unhealthy foods play a major role in the obesity epidemic. By the year 2050, the rate of obesity in the USA is expected to reach 42 percent (Smith, 2011). Children who eat unhealthy food as a regular part of their diets consume more fat, carbohydrates and processed sugar and less fibre than those who do not eat unhealthy food regularly. Junk food in these children’s diets accounts for an extra 187 calories per day, leading to an additional 2.7 kilograms of weight gain per year (Drewnowski & Darmon, 2005). Obesity increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and many other chronic health conditions (Drewnowski & Darmon, 2005).

Depression Unhealthy food may lead to depression, especially in adolescents (Smith, 2011). Hormonal changes at puberty make adolescents more susceptible to mood swings and behavioural changes. A healthy diet plays a key part in regulating and balancing hormones, while a diet high in high-fat and high-sugar foods falls short of these requirements[factual?].

Fatigue Although unhealthy food may make an individual feel full and satisfied, it does lack all the necessary nutrients like proteins and carbohydrates to keep the body feeling energised and healthy. Excessive consumption of unhealthy food may leave an individual feeling chronically fatigued[factual?].

Cognitive impairment A study published in the journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity shows that one week of eating junk food is enough to trigger memory impairment in rats[factual?]. Studies on humans fed unhealthy food for just five days, reported a loss of executive functioning[factual?]. It was stated “because losing one’s memory is all about the impact that it has on us on a day to day life, I’m sure that having a diet that optimises one’s memory is going to be something that we will all be very keen to be following” (Carter, 2013).

Examples of health benefits[edit | edit source]

Controls weight Maintaining a healthy diet (and exercising regularly) can help avoid excessive weight gain and maintain a healthy weight. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit per day[factual?].

Improves mood Eating a healthy diet (as well as exercising) can lead to a better physique, which could make an individual feel better about their appearance, boosting confidence and self-esteem[factual?]. Furthermore, a healthy diet may aid in the ability to think better[factual?].

Combats diseases Healthy eating habits can help prevent and reduce the risk of certain health conditions such as heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure – by boosting high-density lipoprotein (proteins that allow fats to move through water inside and outside the cells), or “good” cholesterol and decreasing unhealthy fats stored in the body (Drewnowski & Darmon, 2005). This combination keeps the blood flowing smoothly, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Furthermore, a healthy diet can prevent a wide range of other help problems, including diabetes, depression and certain types of cancer.

Boosts energy Eating a balanced diet provides the body with the fuel it needs to manage energy levels. When an individual experiences an energy drop, it can stem from eating foods high in sugar and fats (Smith, 2011).

Relevant theories[edit | edit source]

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations[edit | edit source]

Intrinsic motivation can be defined as the inherent desire to engage one's interests and to exercise and develop one's capacities (Reeve, 2009). Put simply, intrinsic motivation is the desire motivation that an individual acquires from within. This form of motivation can develop spontaneously from psychological needs. An individual may experience intrinsic motivation because they have psychological needs within themselves (Reeve, 2009). Psychological needs, when they are supported by the individual's environment and relationships, can result in an experience of psychological need satisfaction. When feeling intrinsically motivated, an individual may express so by saying, “I enjoy doing that" (Reeve, 2009).

Intrinsic motivation can lead to benefits within an individual, including persistence and well-being. The higher an individual's intrinsic motivation, the greater their persistence on the task. Intrinsically motivated persistence can be seen in many acts such as adherence to a healthy lifestyle programme (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Pursuing intrinsic goals leads to better functioning and higher psychological well-being. Studies have found that pursuing intrinsic life goals is associated with greater subjective vitality, less anxiety and depression and greater self-esteem (Reeve, 2009). Individuals who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to say things like "I feel energised" and "I look forward to each new day" than are people who are extrinsically motivated (Moller, Deci & Ryan, 2006).

Extrinsic motivation arises from environmental incentives and consequences. This form of motivation arises from some consequence that is separate from the activity itself. For example, when an individual wins a prize or impresses their peers, the individuals behaviour is extrinsically motivated. That is, because the individual desires to gain attractive consequences, the presence of incentive increases the sense of wanting to engage in the particular behaviour (Reeve, 2009).

The essential difference between these two forms of motivation lies within the source that strengthens and directs the behaviour. While intrinsically motivated behaviour stems from spontaneous psychological need satisfaction, extrinsically motivated behaviour stems from incentives and consequences (Reeve, 2009).

Extrinsic motivation centres around the language and perspective of operant conditioning. The term operant conditioning refers to the process learning to engage in behaviours that produce attractive consequences and learning not to engage in behaviours that produce aversive consequences. Individuals will often engage in behaviours in order to receive attractive consequences or rewards. Research has found however, that rewards that an individual can see, touch, feel, and taste generally decrease intrinsic motivation, whereas, verbal, symbolic or abstract rewards do not (Reeve, 2009).

In relation to resisting temptation, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation play important roles. An individual who wants to resist temptation based on their own goals (self satisfaction) will do so using intrinsic motivation. Alternatively, individuals who desire approval or appraisal (incentive or reward based) will do so using extrinsic motivation.

Self-Determination Theory[edit | edit source]

Venn diagram of Self-Determination Theory

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is one of the main theories that has adopted intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. This theory is primarily centred on the derivation of Hull's psychological need perception (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan co-founded SDT and established that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations stem from the idea of three psychological needs - autonomy, competence and relatedness. Ryan and Deci (2000) emphasised these three psychological needs are said to be universal, innate and essential for an individual psychological health and well-being.

Cognitive Evaluation Theory[edit | edit source]

Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET) is designed to explain the effects of external consequences on intrinsic motivation. This theory is a sub-theory of SDT presented by Deci and Ryan (1985) with a greater focus on autonomy and competence. CET argues that feelings of competence will not enhance intrinsic motivation, unless it is accompanied by a sense of autonomy. Therefore, individuals must not only experience perceived competence, but must also experience their behaviour to be autonomous if intrinsic motivation is to be maintained or improved (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Intrinsic motivation suggests that incentives are not an effective way of maintaining motivation in an individual (Ryan & Deci, 2000). If resisting the temptation of unhealthy food is not a priority for an individual, the chance of doing so is therefore decreased.

Case study[edit | edit source]

Roy Baumeister conducted an experiment in 1998 to examine the effect of a tempting food challenge designed to deplete participants’ willpower through the power of an unfulfilled promise of chocolate.

In the first part of the trial, Baumeister kept the 67 participants in a room that smelled of freshly baked chocolate cookies and then teased them further by showing them actual treats alongside other chocolate flavoured sweets. While some did get to indulge in the sweets, the subjects in the experimental condition, whose resolves were being tested, were asked to eat radishes instead. Many of the radish eaters “exhibited clear interest in chocolate, to the point of looking longingly at the chocolate display and in a few cases even picking up the cookies to sniff at them.

Baumeister then gave the participants a supposedly unrelated exercise, a persistence-testing puzzle. The effect of the manipulation was immediate. Those who ate radishes made far fewer attempts and devoted less than half the time solving the puzzle compared to the chocolate-eating participants. In other words, those who had to resist the sweets and force themselves to eat the vegetable could no longer find the will to fully engage in another torturous task.

Self-control is a general strength that can be used across different tasks – and could be depleted. This study proved that self-regulation is not a skill to be mastered or a repetitive function that can be performed with little consequence (Baumeister et. al., 1998).

Resisting the temptation[edit | edit source]

A guide on how to resist temptation

  • Identify the temptation/s
  • Identify the triggers of the temptation/s
  • Set individual goals
  • Practice self-control and willpower - Expect that it will be difficult. Start with something small and work your way up gradually
  • Plan for temptation - Accept that sometimes you will be tempted. Once you can identify your temptation and triggers, you can work towards managing them
  • Do not enable temptation - At times, you may require removing yourself or avoiding the source of your temptation (e.g. steer clear from the sweet aisle)
  • Seek support - Reaching out to other people to help resist your temptation can be powerful. These people can include family members, friends or counselors
  • Find alternatives - Choosing healthy options can be just as tasty as your temptation. Organising and planning meals and snacks will help in decreasing those sweet cravings
  • Do not let one set-back keep you from working toward your goal - do not be disappointed if you slip-up, just make sure your next meal is a healthy one!

(Haynes, Kemps, Moffitt, & Mohr, 2014).

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

This chapter attempted to define motivation, the different types of motivations in resisting the temptation of unhealthy food and how to resist temptation. Based on the information, hopefully you have been able to develop your knowledge on the importance of a healthy diet and in understanding the motivations in resisting the temptation of unhealthy food.

Chapter summary
  • Motivation is the process that initiates, guides and maintains goal-oriented behaviours.
  • Individuals indulge in unhealthy food for many reasons including stress, cravings and sleep deprivation. Many health risks are also involved in unhealthy eating habits, including obesity, depression and chronic diseases.
  • Through self-control, individuals are able to prevent some forms of temptation.
  • Eating a healthy diet has many benefits such as providing nutrients to the body, combating chronic diseases and boosting energy and mood.
  • There are many theories that attempt to explain motivation. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are forms of motivation an individual may use to resist temptation.
  • In order to resist temptation successfully, an individual should follow 9 simple steps.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Select the most suitable answer for each question.

1 Temptation can be characterized as the desire to perform an action that an individual will benefit in the short-term:


2 Eating unhealthy foods allows the body to grow new cells and cleanse itself of toxins:


3 Intrinsic motivation can lead to benefits such as persistence and psychological well-being:


4 One way of resisting temptation is to not practice willpower:


See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Adriaanse, M.A., de Ridder, D.T.D., & de Wit, J.B.F. (2009). Finding the critical cue: Implementation intentions to chance one’s diet work best when tailored to personally relevant reasons for unhealthy eating. Personality and Social Psychology 35, 60, doi: 10.1177/0146167208325612.

Baumeister, R.F., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M., & Tice, D.M. (1998). Ego depiction: is the active self a limited resource? Journal of Personality and Social Psycology 74, 5, 1252-1265, doi: 74:12521265.

Carter, L. (2013). Junk food linked to memory loss in NSW study on rats. ABC News. Retrieved from:

Deci, E.L. & Ryan, R.M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behaviour. New York: Plenum Press.

Drewnowski, A., & Darmon, N. (2005). The economics of obesity: dietary energy density and energy cost. American Society for Clinical Nutrition. 82, 1.

Glanz, K., Basil, M., Maibach, E., Goldberg, J., & Snyder, D. (1998). Why Americans eat what they do: taste, nutrition, cost, convenience, and weight control concerns as influences on food consumption. J Am Diet Association. 98, 1118–26.

Haynes, A., Kemps, E., Moffitt, R., & Mohr, P. (2014). Resisting temptation of unhealthy food: interation between temptation-elicted goal activation and self-control. Motivation and Emotion, 38, 485-495, doi:10.1007/s11031-014-9393-6.

Loewenstein, G., & Adler, D. (1995). A bias in the prediction of tastes. Economic Journal, 105, 929–937.

Moller, A.C., Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (2006). Choice and ego-depletion: The moderating role of autonomy. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 1024-1036.

Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54-67. doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1020.

Shmueli, D. & Prochaska, J.J. (2009). Resisting tempting foods and smoking behaviour: Implications from a self-control theory perspective. Official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 28, 3, 300-306.

Smellie, A. (2011). Why we crave surgary snacks and not fruit and veg. Daily Mail, retrieved from:

Smith, A. (2011). Fast food and junk food: An Encyclopedia of what we love to eat. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

External links[edit | edit source]