Can Gratitude Help Us Lose Weight?
Willpower is a limited resource. Gratitude might boost it.
Posted December 31, 2022 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
- Dieting requires delaying gratification.
- Willpower is a limited resource.
- Experiencing gratitude can increase willpower.
If willpower is a limited resource, how do you get more of it? It may be as simple as being grateful! There are many studies linking gratitude to improvements in mood, but some recent research shows that gratitude can also increase self-control.
Going on a diet requires willpower. It doesn’t matter if it’s low carb, keto, points, or whatever. You have to resist tempting foods that are not on your diet. You’ll forgo the immediate pleasure of eating so that you can lose weight in the future. You may expect that weight loss will improve your health and appearance, but these anticipated benefits will come sometime later. The enjoyment of eating is right now, so you’ll need to delay gratification if you’re going to succeed at dieting.
If you’ve been dieting, you can remember times when you had the willpower to delay gratification and resist the urge to eat. Other times your resolve vanished, and, despite your good intentions, you gave in and ate. Research suggests that willpower is not a moral quality or some fixed personality trait but a limited resource.
If you’ve been working all day or even just doing unpleasant chores at home, you’ve had to focus your energy on the task at hand even though you’d rather be doing something else. You’ve been “using up” your willpower. Later on, when there’s appealing food nearby, your willpower is spent, so you go ahead and eat it.
Willpower relies on rational, logical thinking: “I shouldn’t have a second piece of pie, or I’ll gain weight,” but if you’ve exhausted your willpower reserve, it won’t work. Instead of depending on logic, positive emotions, especially gratitude, might be more useful. Psychologist David DeSteno studied the effects of gratitude on the ability to delay gratification. He suggested, “…feeling grateful can give our mind the boost it needs to resist temptations that can harm our health.” Instead of struggling to increase your willpower, you could try experiencing gratitude.
One simple way of fostering gratitude is to keep a journal. Every couple of days, stop and think about three things you’re grateful for and write them down. To keep from repeating thoughts of major events (e.g., my parents paid my college tuition), try to recall recent, small kindnesses; someone held a door open for you when your hands were full, your spouse made coffee this morning, a neighbor offered to get your mail while you were away, and so on.
Focusing on gratitude by itself probably won’t produce significant weight loss, but practicing gratitude could be a painless way of resisting the temptation to overeat.
DeSteno, D. (2018). Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride. Boston: Mariner Books.