If you've adopted some challenging New Year's resolutions, a spot of sugar may be just the thing to keep you on track. Yes, even you dieters.
Social psychologist Roy Baumeister of Florida State University shared the unusual tip in his recent book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.
Willpower, it turns out, is a mental resource that becomes depleted through the day. In the case of dieting, a calorie-counter may find it easy to avoid fattening foods in the morning, but after a day of tough choices, it's increasingly likely that she will break down and reach for forbidden foods by bedtime.
But a hit of glucose appears to renew a person's ability to control those impulses – an especially handy trick for the season's nouveau non-smokers, dieters and exercisers.
Prof. Baumeister discussed the moment he made the connection between sugar and willpower in a newsletter circulated by the American Psychological Association Tuesday.
He and his researchers had been conducting experiments using various glucose-delivery systems, including milkshakes and lemonade made with sugar.
"While testing a different theory, we stumbled on the finding that people who got some food showed improvements in self-control afterward – regardless of whether they had enjoyed the food," he told the APA Monitor.
"Glucose is the chemical in the bloodstream that carries energy to the brain, muscles and other organs and systems. In simple terms, glucose is fuel for the brain." Acts of self-control reduce blood-glucose levels, Prof. Baumeister explained. "Low levels of glucose predict poor performance on self-control tasks and tests. Replenishing glucose, even just with a glass of lemonade, improves self-control performance."
The sugar hit doesn't have to come from sweets – it can also come from proteins and other healthy foods that convert to glucose gradually.
But we're keeping the Jelly Bellys in our desk drawer just to be on the safe side.