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Magical Thinking Helps Manage Dieting Stress

Fairy-Tale Thinking Helps Dieters Manage StressA new Canadian study finds that magical thinking, a practice often disregarded as naïve and irrational, can actually help consumers cope with stressful situations like trying to lose weight.

“Magical thinking occurs when an individual invokes mystical, supernatural forces to understand, predict, or even influence events to overcome these stressful situations,” write the authors.

“Weight loss activities are stressful for a number of reasons: being overweight is associated with several negative health consequences as well as considerable social stigma,” said the Canadian experts.

“Consumers are expected to conform to unrealistic cultural ideals of slenderness and they are simultaneously enticed to indulge in abundant, highly caloric, processed food.”

To cope with these conflicting pressures and expectations, consumers engage in various forms of magical thinking. They describe weight loss as being influenced by mysterious forces, such as a body that “conspires” against them or food that “seduces” them.

They also hope that good deeds will be rewarded (like eating chips without consequences after eating cabbage soup all day) and resort to “magical solutions” like fad diets. Finally, they try to fool the scale by changing to lighter clothing or exercising before being weighed.

These magical thinkers are not misinformed, the authors emphasize. “By invoking and negotiating with mystical forces, consumers actively work to create uncertainty and ambiguity as a way to generate hope and possibility in a cultural domain where they otherwise experience very little,” the authors write.

Researchers believe the findings should be considered by consumer advocates and policymakers.

“Programs directed at correcting fallacious consumer knowledge and enjoining consumers to exert greater self-control might be of limited value,” the authors write.

“Indeed, these approaches eliminate certain consumer coping strategies without affecting the source of stress—the cultural expectation to be thin in a culture that entices consumers with endless unhealthy food and lifestyle alternatives.”

Source: University of Chicago Press Journals

Magical Thinking Helps Manage Dieting Stress

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Magical Thinking Helps Manage Dieting Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 17, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2011/06/16/magical-thinking-helps-manage-dieting-stress/26990.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.