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How Habits and Intent Affect Snacking

  • Eating
Image by Debbie Digioia
We generally think of snacks as small amounts of food eaten between meals. But some people (like me) eat many small “meals” a day (like, six or seven), in which case the meaning of the word starts to blur. What makes some people snack and others not? “Snacking now or later? Individual differences in following intentions or habits explained by time perspective” (now that’s a mouthful) explores into the subject based on studies whose conclusions make a great deal of sense (Appetite, by MC Onwezen, J. Van ‘t Riet, H.  vol. 107 12/1/16, pp 144-151,
Basically, the authors studied people who are now-oriented from those who are future-oriented. Here’s part of the thinking: “Even when individuals are aware of long-term health effects of their diet, and form healthy intentions, they often engage in relatively unhealthy snacking habits. Some individuals fall back on unhealthy habits more easily than others.” The studies’ goal was “to explore whether time perspective can explain why some individuals are more prone to rely on habits and others on intentions.” Care to guess which folks the snackers might be?
Their first study “shows that habits are associated with short-term consequences and intentions with long-term consequences.” The second study “shows that the effects of habits on snacking behaviour are strengthened by a present time perspective, whereas the effects of intentions on snacking behaviour are strengthened by a future time perspective. These findings imply that there is a fundamental difference in the guiding function of intentions and habits which might explain individual differences in following intentions versus habits. Individuals with a long-term perspective are more inclined to follow intentions and individuals with a short-term perspective are more inclined to follow habits.” This is why experts encourage you to keep thinking about your goals.
This differentiation is another way of parsing the ability (or not) to delay gratification. If you’re habit-oriented, you are going to seek out pleasure from your habits in the moment, your goals for health be damned. If you’re intent-oriented, you’re likely to defer momentary gratification which does not align with your pleasure-seeking habits in order to attain or maintain long-term goals. Do you recognize yourself in one of these descriptions? If you’re high on habit and low on intent, don’t give up on improving your approach. Read my archived blogs at on Gratification versus Authentic Happiness and How to Improve Self-Control. Then switch your mind from the kick you get enjoying snacking in the now to the pleasure and pride you’ll feel in achieving your goals down the road.