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Can a Sip of Lemonade Make You Have Self-Control?

Willpower: Where there's glucose, there's a way.

| January 13th, 2012

Your 2012 resolution is to have more self-control, you say. That sugary glass of lemonade over there? You’re not even going to look. Nope, that frosty glass can taunt you all it wants...

But what if you knew drinking it could improve your self-control abilities?

Weird, but true.

New research explained in the APA’s Monitor on Psychology reports that high glucose levels—i.e., the “brain fuel” we get from food that becomes energy—affects self-control behavior. When your glucose levels are higher (a recent study raised them with a glass of lemonade), you perform better on self-control and willpower tests.

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But that doesn’t mean you should become a sugar glutton, says Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D., a leading self-control researcher at Florida State University and lead author on the lemonade study. Healthy food helps even more!

“Glucose isn’t just from sugar. It can come from any food,” he says. “We use sugar in the lab because it works quickly. [But] for best results in everyday life, consume some healthier food that the body can burn over a longer period of time, like protein.”

Some mind tricks also came up in the research.

Decisive types beware: Baumeister and his team also found that making too many decisions hurts self-control. You might shrug-off an annoying coworker in the morning, for example, but after a draining day of decisions? You finally snap back, your self-control abilities suddenly spent. (Just tell HR you didn’t have your afternoon snack.)

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The trick is to practice self-control in simple ways, like trying to brush your teeth as a leftie, if you are right-handed. Or patiently focusing on a potentially-frustrating yoga pose. The reason being that self-control works just like a muscle—it gets stronger with regular exercise, but can get fatigued easily if you haven't been practicing (a la office meltdown).

“Just how this interacts with the glucose system is unclear,” Baumeister says. But researchers do know the brain keeps backup energy stores for when glucose gets low, so presumably, exercising self-control gradually stores up glucose for next time.

For now, just breathe and keep glucose-boosting snacks coming. Not a whole lemonade carton though...got to have some self-control here.

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