Barack Obama is sworn in as President

On Tuesdays, we discuss the neuroscience and psychology of hunger, satiety, weight gain and weight loss.

When did we start thinking of eating choices as moral choices? We say that a chocolate croissant is bad, and a raw carrot is good, but not only in terms of our health. We feel virtuous when we eat healthy foods in reasonable portion sizes and dissolute when we hit the drive thru or the vending machine. Time to stop the shame! New research suggests that we may be able to use the guilt trip to our dieting advantage. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely¬†found that people lie and cheat less (for instance, in their tax returns) after they take a formal oath to be honest. Since succumbing to high-calorie, high-fructose corn-syrupy foods is considered “cheating”, maybe taking a solemn vow to eat healthily every morning, or even before each meal or snack, will help us to get slimmer?

I, Steve Macknik, swear on my honor to stick to my diet today. I vow to chew slowly and deliberately, putting my fork down between bites. I promise to make healthy food choices and to stop eating as soon as I have satisfied my hunger.

Before you conclude that this is preposterous, you should know that belief in the oath is not necessarily critical to its effectiveness. Ariely’s research¬†showed that swearing on a bible deterred cheating even in atheists.

Would you make a “dieting oath” now? If so, come back here and let us know how that worked for you.

-Stephen Macknik