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Do People Regret Their Unhealthy Behaviors?

Written By Claire C

This article by Louise Lee discusses some of the psychology behind guilt related to unhealthy behaviors. It specifically analyzes current research regarding the role of regret in dietary choices. 

Find the original article here: Do People Regret Their Unhealthy Behaviors? 

The Bird’s Eye View:

  • New research shows that level of regret before indulging in unhealthy food behaviors may be higher than after actually consuming the food
  • Conducted a field study of 400 diners at Taverna Banfi, a restaurant known for its dessert buffet
  • Found that levels of food regret peak before unhealthy behavior occurs

Hot vs. Cold Regret:

  • Cold regret: distant and unemotional regret that occurs when you think about engaging in an undesirable behavior
    • Since you’re able to be temporally distant from the behavior, you can evaluate the choice calmly and deliberately
    • This produces a type of anticipated regret
    • Can also be related to behaviors that occurred a long time ago
  • Hot regret: emotional and defensive regret that occurs immediately after an undesirable behavior
    • Often causes a state of denial in order to protect your ego and identity after engaging in behavior that might threaten your sense of self
    • This denial often decreases the beneficial effects of regrets (such as helping you remember and avoid the same behaviors in the future) 

The Specifics of Food Regret:

  • Food related regret functions to help us modify our behavior 
    • Specifically helpful in changing habits related to unhealthy or undesirable food choices, such as overeating
  • In the study mentioned, researchers split diners into the anticipated or cold regret group (took survey before eating) and the experienced or hot regret group (took survey after eating )
  • Results showed that levels of regret were significantly higher in the anticipated surveys compared to the experienced surveys
    • This difference was greater in participants who were trying to lose weight
    • This is most likely because participants who were trying to lose weight had a hot reaction to eating dessert that suppressed some of their regret

Significance of the Study:

  • Interventions to change eating behavior should be implemented before people engage in unhealthy behaviors
  • This can be applied to most type of unhealthy behaviors, as levels of regret are typically highest before committing any type of undesirable behavior
  • Anticipation of regret can be used as a tool more easily than reflection of regret

How Food Regret Relates to Fasting:

  • As with any type of dietary action, fasting comes with many opportunities to engage in undesirable behaviors
    • This can occur most often in the form of breaking a fast earlier than planned
  • This research indicates that levels of regret before breaking a fast are likely higher than those after breaking a fast
  • Therefore, interventions to decrease your chances of prematurely ending a fast should focus on cold regret that occurs as soon as you anticipate you might break

Other Fasting Flamingo Resources You Might Enjoy:

  • The Hungry Brain – Book Summary
    • This book was clearly written by a PhD — it is not a light one AND as a result, it has the most comprehensive explanation we have ever seen for how our ancient brains are hijacked by our modern world of abundant sugar, processed food chemicals, and marketing tactics.
  • Life in the Fasting Lane – Book Summary
    • A great primer on living fasting as a lifestyle; an excellent choice for beginners, but still enjoyable for a more experienced faster as it includes some refined approaches and new personal stories.
  • The Joy of Fasting – Rumi Poem

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