Golubovy/ShutterstockWeight loss can be a tricky beast, especially if you’re constantly surrounded by sugar and fat-loaded snacks. It’s just so hard to say no! But dieters, we have a little secret to share: Your brain might be making you fat. Whether it’s your pesky diet soda habit or late night cravings, your own mental attitude can sabotage your weight loss goals. Thankfully, you don’t have to subscribe to fad diets or a pricey gym membership to start dropping the pounds. According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, healthier eating habits could start with the simple words, “I don’t.”
To gather their data, scientists recruited a group of 120 undergraduate students who wanted to adopt a healthier diet. The students read one of two strategies for resisting temptation: responding with “I don’t eat X” (i.e. “I don’t eat cake”) or “I can’t eat X” when offered an “unhealthy option such as a chocolate bar or opportunity to miss a workout,” the researchers wrote. Then, as the students left the room, they were asked to choose between two snacks: a chocolate candy bar or a granola health bar.
You can already see where this is going. Overall, those who had been presented with the phrase “I don’t” chose the granola bar far more often than those who used the phrase “I can’t.” In fact, while 64 percent of the participants in the “I don’t” category chose the granola bar, only 39 percent of their counterparts did. Don’t miss even more ways to lose weight without a lick of exercise.
But why does this work? “The ‘can’t’ framing implies an external restraint, which feels disempowering,” says Oliver Burkeman, journalist and author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. “To say that you ‘don’t’ do something, by contrast, suggests autonomy, as well as long-term commitment.”
The major takeaway is this: While the difference between these two phrases might seem small at first, simply saying “I don’t” can boost your confidence and help you resist temptation. Need a little nudge to finally make it to the gym, too? Here are the best tricks for exercise motivation.