A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research, Inc. by Drs. Vanessa Patrick and Henrik Hagtvedt  was really interesting to me.   Although it doesn’t seem to quite fit with appetite regulation, I decided that it did indeed.  So I report to you!

In the study, participants were given the task of using two different phrases, “I don’t” vs. “I can’t.”   Very interestingly, the use of the phrase “I don’t” helped with internal motivation!  Translated, if you want to maintain weight loss because you are personally motivated to loss weight AND not for the purpose of getting ready for a wedding or worrying about what other people think (these are external motivations!), then using the phrase “I don’t” becomes much more empowering to help you maintain yourself in the face of temptation vs. using the “I can’t” phrase.  

To be complete, if you ARE trying to lose weight before a wedding or a reunion and that’s your only goal, then “I can’t” apparently would work better.   “I can’t” phrase seems to help one with motivations that are external!  

BUT for you folks that need long-term control or your diet, use “I don’t” eat processed carbohydrates. ” I don’t” eat starches.  “I don’t” eat cake!   This will make you feel more in control!

I would have liked to see some MRI studies in cingulate gyrus getting if the “I don’t” phrase works better there than the “I can’t” phrase.  The cingulate gyrus is considered to be the anatomical seat for “willpower.”   I hypothesize that the “I don’t” phrase lights up this section of the brain more than the “I can’t” phrase.

I must say that for myself, a long-time sugar-addicted guy, the “I don’t” phrase works for me personally.  I had defaulted to saying “I can’t” eat carbohydrates for many years.   I felt deprived.   Since reading this study, I’ve converted to saying “I can’t” instead.   Amazing how well “I don’t” worked better than I can’t.  I simply feel more empowered! 

Especially when confronted with those Passover chocolate covered matzo and matzo ball soup and the chocolate bunnies of Easter.   Or the kitchen at work with the leftover chocolate chip cookies.   Those were there just last Thursday and I said “I don’t” to them.  

Reference:  Journal of Consumer Research, Inc.
“I Don’t” versus “I Can’t”: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior
Author(s): Vanessa M. Patrick and Henrik Hagtvedt