On a diet but not able to shed kilos? You may be adopting the wrong strategies, according to researchers who suggest that people often replace their favourite foods with less-desirable options rather than adding healthy food they actually like.
"Our research shows that instead of creating rules to avoid one's favorite treats, dieters should focus on eating healthy foods that they enjoy," said Meredith David from Baylor University in the US.
"Dieters who restrict themselves from consuming the foods they love most may be setting themselves up for failure," said David.
"Instead, they may be better off by allowing occasional 'treats' and focusing attention on healthy foods that they enjoy and making it a point to include those tasty, but healthy foods in their diet," she added.
The findings - three studies and 542 study participants - was determined by a peron's level of self-control.
"In coming up with plans to enhance one's health and well-being, low self-control individuals tend to set themselves up for a harder pathway to success by focusing on avoiding the very foods they find most tempting," said David.
"Our data reveals that individuals who are generally more successful at reaching their goals 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," she said.
Researchers found that when asked to list specific rules that individuals might use to guide their food consumption, a large percentage of individuals listed rules that involve restricting and avoiding certain foods.
This was particularly the case among low self-control individuals - those who generally have less success in reaching their goals. Individuals who are generally more successful in goal pursuit tended to list rules that involved things they should approach and/or consume, researchers said.
When thinking of unhealthy foods to avoid as a part of a diet, low self-control individuals think of foods that they really like - their favorite snacks, and most tempting items.
High self-control individuals think of foods that they like but could reasonably forgo, researchers said.
When thinking of healthy foods to eat as a part of a diet, low self-control individuals think of foods they do not like, such as those that they find highly unpalatable (for example brussels sprouts). High self-control individuals think of foods they enjoy eating (for example strawberries).
"Frequent attention is given to health advice surrounding well-intentioned lists of 'magical' foods that everyone should eat or practically 'poisonous' foods that people should avoid consuming," said Davis.
"The next time you decide to go on a diet or seek to improve your health by altering your food consumption, opt for strategies that focus on including healthy foods in your diet, and focus specifically on those healthy foods that you really enjoy eating," she added.
The findings were published in the journal Psychology & Marketing.