The Incidental Diet: How to Lose Weight Without Really Trying


Losing weight is hard. Studies have repeatedly shown that willpower is a limited resource, and dieting depletes the hell out of it. If you happen to have a high-stress job that you spend the day forcing yourself to do, then finding the strength to curb your indulgences at night is a lost cause. Even worse, dieting involves a cruel paradox: To resist food, you need willpower — but to fuel willpower, you need to eat.

The good news is, researchers are uncovering more and more ways to get that dream physique sans effort. With the help of subtle dining cues, such as a bigger fork or a smaller plate, you can theoretically trick yourself to eat less food — no calorie counting necessary. Though you do consciously set the stage for how, when, where, and with whom you consume your food, the effort involved in, say, buying a set of 10-inch plates once every few years is infinitely less taxing than deciding all day long not to reach for a bowl of ice cream. Best of all, since this incidental path to dieting is cheap and easy, it’s doable.

“If you do things to outsmart yourself, that’s a very astute and efficient use of your self-control,” says Roy Baumeister, a psychologist and the co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. “It’s better to make gradual, long-term changes to how you eat than to use your willpower to resist temptation bite by bite.”

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