Here is a very insightful article about decision fatigue. Too many choices wear out your brain. Difficulties in compromising—like shopping among many possibilities, when you have limited money to buy your preferred item—also make you punchy. So guess what happens next? Your brain craves sugar, the real thing, glucose…no artificial sweetener. The result is additional calories. Who’d have thought it? And there are many other consequences as well, unrelated to diet, but affecting judicial sentences, your lack of willpower to keep exercising or reject other temptations (your neighbor’s wife?), your ability to keep on working. Check it out after looking over some of these excerpts.

No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue—you’re not consciously aware of being tired—but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain…

These experiments demonstrated that there is a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control. When people fended off the temptation to scarf down M&M’s or freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies, they were then less able to resist other temptations. Willpower really was a form of mental energy that could be exhausted. The experiments confirmed the 19th-century notion of willpower being like a muscle that was fatigued with use, a force that could be conserved by avoiding temptation. When you shop till you drop, your willpower drops, too.

The brain, like the rest of the body, derives energy from glucose, the simple sugar manufactured from all kinds of foods. The sugar restored willpower, but the artificial sweetener had no effect. The restored willpower improved people’s self-control as well as the quality of their decisions:

Your brain does not stop working when glucose is low. It stops doing some things and starts doing others. It responds more strongly to immediate rewards and pays less attention to long-term prospects.

The discoveries about glucose help explain why dieting is a uniquely difficult test of self-control—and why even people with phenomenally strong willpower in the rest of their lives can have such a hard time losing weight. They start out the day with virtuous intentions, resisting croissants at breakfast and dessert at lunch, but each act of resistance further lowers their willpower. As their willpower weakens late in the day, they need to replenish it. But to resupply that energy, they need to give the body glucose. They’re trapped in a nutritional catch-22:

1. In order not to eat, a dieter needs willpower.

2. In order to have willpower, a dieter needs to eat.

As the body uses up glucose, it looks for a quick way to replenish the fuel, leading to a craving for sugar. Read the rest of this entry »

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