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What hinders your New Year’s resolutions?

It’s that time of the year again where many are thinking about their New Year’s resolutions. Especially in the current time during the Corona crisis, choices for health behaviors are particularly prominent. Although good resolutions are made, they are often not put into action. But why is that?

A hurdle that can get in the way of achieving healthy resolutions are compensatory health beliefs (CHBs). These are beliefs that an unhealthy behavior can later be compensated by a healthy behavior (Rabia et al., 2006). For example, “It is okay if I eat this snack now because I am going to workout later”. Some findings show that individuals with stronger compensatory health beliefs engage in more unhealthy behavior such as drinking alcohol (Matley & Davies, 2018), smoking cigarettes (Radtke et al., 2012), and have a high-calorie intake (Kronick et al., 2011). The compensatory health beliefs can become problematic when they are used as justification to perform the unhealthy behavior nevertheless the compensatory behavior is not exhibited. The accompanying cognitive bias is not perceived and thus one can justify unhealthy behaviors without performing the compensation. 

A study by Amrein et al. (2021) investigated the relationship between CHBs and unhealthy snack consumption in daily life. Subjects were required to provide information about their snack consumption several times a day, state and trait CHBs related to compensation with subsequent eating behaviors and physical activity. The results of the study show that compensatory health beliefs are important for unhealthy snack consumption in daily life.  That means if you have stronger beliefs about compensating for the snack later, you’re more likely to eat an unhealthy snack.  

Of course, such compensatory health beliefs occur not only in the context of unhealthy eating behaviors, but also take place in other areas. But how can you counteract these beliefs? A good strategy for achieving any type of goal is If-Then plans. Typically, goals are described as an end product such as “I want to quit smoking.” If-Then plans, on the other hand, capture predetermined responses when a particular situation occurs. For example, “When I feel the urge to smoke a cigarette, I will eat a chewing gum instead.” Deciding such things in advance reduces the demands on your willpower.

With these mechanisms in mind, it might be helpful to frame your New Year’s resolutions as If-Then plans to reach (or at least increase the chance of reaching) your desired goals.

Bibliography :
  • Amrein, M. A., Scholz, U., & Inauen, J. (2021). Compensatory health beliefs and unhealthy snack consumption in daily life. Appetite, 157, 104996.
  • Kronick, I., Auerbach, R. P., Stich, C., & Knäuper, B. (2011). Compensatory beliefs and intentions contribute to the prediction of caloric intake in dieters. Appetite, 57(2), 435–438.
  • Matley, F. A. I., & Davies, E. L. (2018). Resisting temptation: Alcohol specific self-efficacy mediates the impacts of compensatory health beliefs and behaviours on alcohol consumption. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 23(3), 259–269.
  • Rabia, M., Knäuper, B., & Miquelon, P. (2006). The eternal quest for optimal balance between maximizing pleasure and minimizing harm: The compensatory health beliefs model. British Journal of Health Psychology, 11(1), 139–153.
  • Radtke, T., Scholz, U., Keller, R., & Hornung, R. (2012). Smoking is ok as long as I eat healthily: Compensatory Health Beliefs and their role for intentions and smoking within the Health Action Process Approach. Psychology & Health, 27(sup2), 91–107.
Featured image :
  • Hands Holding a 2021 Calendar by Olya Kobruseva (no date available)

Author : Jessica Wiedmer