Decision Fatigue – Why You Can’t Stick To Your Diet

Decision FatigueDo you crave sugar when you’re overworked and stressed?

Have you ever been working hard at your desk, thoroughly engrossed in a complex work task for hours, and just got up and smashed a bunch of sugar?

Perhaps on your way home after the mother of all days, you find yourself standing in a takeaway shop waiting for your order even though you have clean food at home.

This is really common. It doesn’t mean you have no willpower or lack discipline. Chances are like many Australians, on that day you were suffering from decision fatigue.

Decision Fatigue

Decision fatigue is a relatively new discovery and I’m thankful I found it as I’ve been telling my clients for years it’s your life killing your willpower.

In decision-making and psychology, decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of your decisions after a prolonged period of time having to make too many decisions. It is now understood as one of the chief causes of the irrational trade-offs we make late in the day when it comes to making seemingly small decisions around our lifestyle.

From the moment we wake up we start making decisions. How many of you look at your phone straight away when you wake up. As soon as you click on facebook you start making decisions. To like, to not like, to click and read, to save for later, to comment, to tag, to send to a friend, to go into a rage and post a rant. These are all decisions you wouldn’t have had to make if you didn’t turn the thing on. Or they didn’t exist.

Then you do the same thing on instagram, then you check your email accounts, bumble, tinder, grindr. All of this perhaps before your feet have even hit the floor.

If this carries on all day, what you are actually doing is making it harder and harder to make smart decisions as the day goes on.

Basically, the more choices you make in an average day, the harder each successive one becomes for your poor tiring, meant for life 40,000 years ago brain to make.

Our brains are not designed to handle the modern pace of information overload. And we’re all suffering.

Who Discovered This

Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist known for a wide range of work on the self, sexuality and sex differences, social rejection, motivation, and aggression, coined the term “decision fatigue” in reference to the decline in the quality of decisions that are made by a person after many decisions have been made in a row.

Baumeister began studying mental discipline in a series of experiments, first at Case Western and then at Florida State University.

His experiments proved that there is a limited store of mental energy for applying self-control and discipline. The more we use our self control to fend off the temptation to scoff down the office biscuits, the less we are able to resist other temptations in front of us later in the day.

“When we’re drained mentally” Baumeister says, “we don’t want to make compromises. To compromise is a hugely complex human ability and therefore one of the first to decline when our willpower is depleted. We become what researchers call a cognitive miser, or in other words, hoard our energy and look for short cuts”

Shortcut One : Become reckless. This is when you act impulsively instead of using the energy needed to think through the pros and cons of you’re decision. E.g. Should I just wait til I get home to eat the food in the fridge or eat these 4 bread rolls in front of me.

Shortcut two : Do nothing. Ever had so much to do you just did nothing because it’s easier? When the task in front of you is so monumental how many of us put it off and just do nothing?

Can’t start exercising and eating clean because it’s too hard?

Can’t “start the process” of looking for a new job you might actually enjoy to replace the one you really don’t like because it takes too much effort?

If this sounds familiar you’re making too many decisions elsewhere.

Supermarkets, the sneaky buggers, actually figured this out a looooooong time ago, but it’s only recently that researchers figured out why.

When we go shopping we do some serious comparing and decision-making. We compare prices, serving sizes, expiry dates, name brands v no name brands, amounts all while fending off temptations from isles and isles of utter rubbish. Each purchase and denial we make requires more and more mental trade-offs — by the time we arrive at the check out, we have less willpower than when we entered and we all know what’s in bins and baskets littered around the checkout! Mhmm, strategically placed chocolate and soft drink. Ever noticed that? This is why they are called impulse purchases. And they are always sugary snacks and sugary drinks.

Want To Know Why?

“When peoples willpower is reduced, they’re more likely to yield to any kind of temptation, but they’re especially vulnerable to anything offering a quick hit of sugar” Baumeister says

To establish cause and effect, researchers at Baumeister’s lab tried refuelling the brain in a series of experiments involving lemonade mixed either with sugar or with a diet sweetener. The sugary lemonade provided a burst of glucose, the effects of which could be observed right away in the lab; the sugarless variety tasted quite similar without providing the same burst of glucose.

Again and again, the sugar restored willpower, but the artificial sweetener did not!

Baumeister says “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”

These revelations about simple sugars help explain why dieting is so hard for so many. Even people who are known for having iron strong willpower in other areas of their life yet can’t get their act together to follow a diet.

Everyone starts the day strong but as we go through the day making decision after decision our willpower drops. As our willpower weakens we need to replenish it. And so we crave sugar. And isn’t sugar loaded, can sit on a shelf for years and not go off WTF is even in that, everywhere you go.

Why are vending machines full of sugar? Because it’s what your tired brain wants ya little busy bee.


Ever got hungry just thinking about going on a diet? Baumeister further explains – “The mere expectation of having to exert self-control makes people hunger for sweet foods”

decision fatigue

Good lord.

A similar effect helps explain why many women yearn for chocolate and other sugary treats just before menstruation: their bodies are seeking a quick replacement as glucose levels fluctuate”

What researchers also found is eating protein and more nutritious foods to replenish self control doesn’t work any where near as well as, to turn protein and fat into sugar takes a long time whereas simple sugar is ready to go as soon as it hits your mouth.

Your life is making you over eat sugar.

Your job is making you over eat sugar.

Your internet browsing is making you over eat sugar.

Your staring at advertisements all day long is making you over eat sugar.

The Famous Israeli Prisoner Study

Shai Danziger and Liora Avnaim-Pesso of Ben Gurion University and Johnathan Levav of Columbia University studied the various factors affecting the probability that Israeli prisoners who were going before a judge for a parole hearing would be set free.

They analysed over 1,100 decisions that were made during the course of a year. What they found was it wasn’t the crime committed, the length of the sentence, or the ethnicity of the offender that determined a prisoner’s future. the biggest influence

On whether a prisoner should be granted parole, seemed to be the time of day the prisoner stood in front of the judge.

If you appeared later in the day you were less likely to be released on parole than if you appeared in the morning.

This had nothing to do with the judges treating prisoners unfairly on purpose. It was decision fatigue. The mental work required ruling on case after case all day wore each judge down, weakening his ability to make a good decision by the end of the day.

 No wonder kids are supposed to bring their teacher an apple.

Decision Fatigue

What To DoStop Making So Many Decisions!

Simply put, you have to minimise your decisions. 20 years ago people your age were not making as many decisions as you are now, WHATEVER age you are.

1- Social Media

Stop starting the day by turning on facebook, insta, snapchat and whatever else is new. These apps are designed to draw you in for as long as possible. App companies actually hire people called “attention engineers” who borrow techniques from Las Vegas casino gambling among other places, and actively try to make these products as addictive as possible. There is a wave of Google, Twitter and Facebook workers who knowing helped make technology so addictive and are now disconnecting themselves from the internet and going back to flip phones for a reason.

2 – Work Email

Stop checking your work email first thing in the morning. Don’t give me that #riseandgrind rubbish either. Being busy doesn’t make you look important. It makes you look tired and irritable. It’s unattractive. It’s boring. No one cares if you’re busy. The question is, are you happy?

I firmly believe starting the day by “going to work” whether metaphorically or physically is the worst possible way to start your day. It’s not your day anymore. It’s theirs. Is this why you became an adult? So you can work away 80% of your life?

Set aside time to check your email and stay away from it when it’s not your allocated time.

3 – Give Yourself Energy First

Start the day by giving yourself energy, by filling up your cup with whatever inspires you. When you go straight to work in the morning you give your energy away to some one else straight away. And then you wonder why you have no energy left at the end of the day to do what you want.

“I’m exhausted”

“I’m too tired”

“I just want to sit here”

4 – Choose The Simple Option

Prep your food the night before or sign up to a food delivery service so you don’t have to make food decisions every day of your life. Keep it simple. One type of protein. One type of veg. One type of starch. The reality of the physique game is the fussier you are with food, the less likely you will ever find happiness in fat loss.

Smart restaurants do this to make the decision making process quicker. 4 entrees. 8 mains. 3 desserts. Bada boom bada bing

Ever picked up a Chinese menu that was more like a phone book? How confused do you get? Too many decisions

5 – Limit Your Options

Ever wondered why zuckerberg wears the same clothes every day? Dr. Dre wears the same shoes every day: Nike’s Air Force 1. Barack Obama wears only gray or blue suits. Steve Jobs became famous for a black turtleneck, jeans, and New Balance sneakers. They know what they wear is not important to their performance.

6 – Remove Yourself From Distractions.

 Don’t try and make decisions in a distracting environment. Ever heard of the gruen effect? In shopping mall design, the Gruen transfer (also known as the Gruen effect) is the moment when consumers enter a shopping mall or store and, surrounded by an intentionally confusing layout, lose track of their original intentions, making consumers more susceptible to make impulse buys.

Mhmm – you’re a sucker to these companies like the rest of us.

7 – Done Is Better Than Perfect

 Are you a perfectionist? Nothing is ever good enough? Are you wasting hours of your day and decision after decision trying to get something perfect?

Perfectionism is procrastination. Stop it. You’re wasting your life on something that doesn’t exist. You can always revisit the task at later date if you like.  

Perfectionism doesn’t work in fitness either. No one is perfect. The amount of hot ripped females I’ve had stand in front of me over the years tell me they need to lose more fat as they grab at the worlds smallest skin fold on their stomach is insane.

Perfectionism is a curse. It’ll cause you endless frustration and is actually a sign you have low emotional intelligence and faulty belief systems.

8. For Important Decisions Later In The Day, Eat First.

Remember the judges above. Eat well. Eat regularly. But eat clean. No, this is not a way to justify your sugary snack addiction.

9. Don’t Go Grocery Shopping When You’re Hungry.

Ever done that. Ever witnessed all the rubbish you buy. Now you know why!

When you are hungry, your stomach produces a hormone called ghrelin, which negatively impacts decision-making.

This appetite-increasing hormone decreases impulse control and increases the chances of making a bad decision

10. Only Develop One Habit At A Time

We all know multi tasking doesn’t work right. We all know you just end up doing a bunch of things badly right?

You have limited willpower, so when you use it up you’ll make poor choices. Working for an extended period of time or being forced to make multiple complex decisions uses up your stores even faster. So if you’re working on changing your health or your life, work on one thing at a time and slowly build upon each other.

Most of the time it’s not your fault. It’s your brain. It’s your boss. It’s your bloody phone that makes this health thing so hard. There will never be a right time. You’re never going to just wake up motivated. You need to create a lifestyle that allows you to do what you want to do.

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