Illustrated by Ammiel Mendoza
Before you think about going on the Master Cleanse — again — consider this: Dieting may just make you dumber.
That's because, says Sendhil Mullainathan, professor of economics at Harvard University, dieting clogs up your brain with all its obsessive planning and calculating. In other words, worrying about weight loss takes up much of the precious brain bandwidth you might otherwise use for problem-solving, or rocket science, or remembering the name of the drummer of The Black Keys (Patrick Carney, for the record).
There's another unintended consequence of not having enough bandwidth; you may unwittingly sabotage your diet. For a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, one group had their mental bandwidth taxed by being given a difficult task while the other was given a more simple test. They were then given the choice between cake or fruit. The participants who'd been more heavily taxed ate the most cake. To wit: The less bandwidth you have, the harder it is to actually stick to a diet.
So, what's the solution? Choose a diet that requires less thinking. As Mullainathan writes, "The results emphasize the importance of considering rule complexity to promote long-term weight management." One program touted by the study is Atkins, which places a simple ban on foods like bread and most sweets. That makes it easier for dieters to navigate the weight-loss waters without burning their precious mental bandwidth in the process. (New York Times)