Why Those "Don't Eat This" Statements Actually Make You Eat More

If we tell you not to eat these, you’re going to really want them. (Photo: Stocksy)

There’s a reason why you may not be obeying the “food police.”

New research published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research discovered that negative food warnings tend to backfire and actually encourage dieters to consume more processed or high-fattening snacks and meals.

Investigators from Arizona State University conducted three separate studies which all proved the same theory. In one of the experiments, 397 volunteers were provided with either a one-sided positive message (for example,” All sugary snacks are good”) or negative message (“All sugary snacks are bad”) about snacks high in sugar. They were then instructed to watch a short video while nibbling on chocolate chip cookies.

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As a result, those who were on a diet and read the negative message ate 39 percent more cookies compared to those dieting participants who read the positive message.

In their final study, the researchers gathered 324 volunteers who were shown a negative food message, a positive food message or a message that was a mix of both positive and negative (such as, “All dessert tastes good, but is bad for your heath”). Those adults who read the negative message opted for 30 percent more unhealthy snacks compared to those participants who read the positive message. However, the dieters who read the two-sided slogan chose 47 percent fewer unhealthy snacks than those who were presented with just the negative words.

The investigators believe their findings can be useful to the US government and its agencies when creating public service announcements regarding the obesity epidemic in this country.

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“We think dieters increase their interest in and consume more unhealthy foods after seeing one-sided negative messages because they feel like their freedom to control their food choices is threatened,” study co-author Nguyen (Win) Pham, Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Marketing at Arizona State University, tells Yahoo Health.

On the other hand, conscious eaters tend to have a different way of interpreting double-sided information. “Instead, they view these messages as providing even more freedom of choice than positive messages,” she explains. “And as a result, dieters are more likely to comply with the messages and choose less unhealthy foods.”

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