Non-Food Incentives Can Make You Eat Less

Similar to the concept behind the McDonald’s happy meal, non-food rewards or toys motivate both kids and adults to chose smaller portions, according to a new study.

Researchers from Cornell Food & Brand Lab used functional magnetic resonance imaging to see how the brain responds to rewards. They discovered that incentives – small toys, a gift card, or a lottery ticket – trigger the same responses in the brain that a tasty meal or snack would. And the majority of kids and adults will choose a half-sized portion of food when it’s paired with this type of prize.

“Clearly, eating less is not fun for many people (and may even be a source of short-term unhappiness), as portion size restriction requires discipline and self-control,” the authors said. “Yet, by combining one shorter-term desire (to eat) with another shorter-term desire (to play) that in combination also address a longer-term desire (to be healthy), different sources of happiness become commensurable.”

Sacrificing calories for a gamble

The study also found that the mere prospect of getting a prize is more motivating than the actual prize – people were more likely to choose a smaller meal if it came with just the chance to win a $10 lottery ticket.

“Unlike the Happy Meal, which offers a toy every time, adults were willing to sacrifice calories for a gamble,” said Deborah MacInnis, professor of business administration at USC Marshall.

The findings suggest that people can reward themselves for eating less food by using non-food rewards.

“This substitution of rewards assists consumers in staying happy and satisfied,” the authors wrote.

Parents, too, may learn that reinforcing their children’s good behavior with non-food items could help kids avoid overeating.

The study is published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.

Source: Cornell Food & Brand Lab

Eating Disorder Self Test. Take the EAT-26 self test to see if you might have eating disorder symptoms that might require professional evaluation. All answers are confidential.

Find a Treatment Facility Near You

Click on a state below to find eating disorder treatment options that could be right for you.

The information provided on EatingDisorders.com is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes and we encourage all visitors to see a licensed physician if they believe that they have an eating disorder. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of EatingDisorders.com nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Please see our Legal Statement for further information.

Copyright © 2008-2018 EatingDisorders.com.
Company Information

© 2018 EatingDisorders.com. All rights reserved. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of EatingDisorders.com's terms of service and privacy policy. The material on this site is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.