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Would You Like Fries With That? ... Not an Easy Decision

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“Would you like french fries or a side salad with your sandwich?”

A question seemingly so simple but undoubtedly complex.

“(Hesitation) … (indecision) … salad please, with vinaigrette dressing on the side.”

Don’t get me wrong; I’m as much a green, leafy vegetable-loving lady as the herbivore on either side of me, but when it comes to the ‘fries or side salad’ conundrum, it’s an ongoing battle to see which side comes out on top.

If you have had the same conundrum as me, then you know that question (and many others just like it) are never as black and white as they seem.

Would I like to order a healthy side salad, yes. Do I want french fries, yes!

According to researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), “Making that choice, it turns out, is a complex neurological exercise that can be influenced by a simple shifting of attention toward the healthy side of life.”

Deciding if you’re going to eat something involves an elaborate process of firing synapses that happens instantaneously.

“When you decide what to eat, not only does your brain need to figure out how it feels about a food's taste versus its health benefits versus its size or even its packaging, but it needs to decide the importance of each of those attributes relative to the others. And it needs to do all of this more-or-less instantaneously,” according to a release on the study.

Antonio Rangel – professor of economics and neuroscience at Caltech – and Todd Hare – a former postdoc at Caltech who is now an assistant professor of neuroeconomics at the University of Zurich in Switzerland – found that “while everyone uses the same area of the brain to make value-laden decisions, there's a second and separate brain area that seems to come to life when a person is using self-control during the decision-making process.”

But simply recognizing the separation of brain activity doesn’t make the balancing act of tasty vs. healthy choices any easier.

According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research in the fall of 2010, “Self-control failures depend on whether people see activities involving self control (e.g., eating in moderate quantities) as an obligation to work or an opportunity to have fun.”

So not only do we exert more self control in what we choose to eat when we actively consider a food’s healthiness, but we’re also more likely to make healthy choices when we view the choice as fun or a challenge, not as work.

Think healthy, eat healthy: Caltech scientists show link between attention and self-control

Could learning self control be enjoyable?

Reviewed July 28, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Shannon Koehle

Bailey Mosier is a freelance journalist living in Orlando, Florida. She received a Masters of Journalism from Arizona State University, played D-I golf, has been editor of a Scottsdale-based golf magazine and currently contributes to GolfChannel.com. She aims to live an active, healthy lifestyle full of sunshine and smiles.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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