Have you been thinking about starting a gluten-free diet? If so, learn when research suggests the best time to start is!
The Taoist saying goes:
The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.
Similarly, that gluten-free (or keto, Paleo, Mediterranean, etc.) diet you’ve been thinking about starting should also begin today. And there’s a good scientific reason for that too!
Why you should start your gluten-free diet today
If you had a choice between starting a new gluten-free diet today or next week, what would you choose? The majority of you would likely opt for next week. And you’d rationalize it by saying things like:
- I don’t know where to begin.
- I have to learn which foods contain gluten and which foods are gluten-free.
- I need to find new recipes.
- I have to clean out my pantry.
All of which are valid points. In order to successfully transition to a gluten-free diet, you would have to do all of the above. And more. That’s a lot to get done in order to start today. Next week does seem much more reasonable. But here’s the problem: next week never comes. Your new diet is always going to start next week. Does this sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. It seems to be a very human thing to do.
Consider the following three studies:
Researchers offered participants two snack choices. The first was a large chocolate chip cookie. The second was plain, low-fat yogurt. In this first scenario, again, about 50% of participants chose the cookie and the other 50% chose the yogurt. In the second scenario, researchers told participants that they would get the same snack option twice. The second time would be 1 week later. This time, the number of participants that opted for the chocolate chip cookie rocketed up to 83%!
But guess what happened when participants were given the same yogurt or cookie choice again the next week?
Those who chose the cookie the first time chose the same cookie again the second time.
Researchers offered participants a free movie rental (clearly, this was an older study). Participants could choose between a cheesy, comedy movie (Bruce Almighty) or, a realistic and education, but not so fun film (Schindler’s List). In the first scenario, participants were allowed to choose only one movie. In this scenario, 50% of participants chose Bruce Almighty and the other 50% chose Schindler’s List.
In the second scenario, participants were now told that they had two free rentals. One for the first week, another for the second week. In this scenario, 80% of the participants chose Bruce Almighty. Participants claimed they would choose the more educational film the following week. But when participants were given a similar choice the next week (comedy vs history genres) nearly all of them chose the comedy movie again. Even though they said they’d choose the serious film next time.
Researchers offered financial compensation to participants who completed a survey. In the first scenario, participants were offered to receive 100 rupees (~$5) immediately after completing the survey, or, wait two weeks and receive 175 rupees (~$9). In this scenario, only 37% of participants opted for the lower amount of money immediately.
In the second scenario, researchers told participants that they would be completing the second survey next month. The same financial incentives existed – 100 rupees immediately after completing the survey or 175 rupees two weeks after completing the survey. In this second scenario, the number of participants electing for immediate payment nearly doubled! 64% of participants opted for receiving money immediately.
What’s going on here? Why do people make strange decisions in the face of doing something “better” in the future?
In the above scenarios, participants believed they would make up for their present “poor” decision by making a “better” choice in the future. But here’s the catch, most of them of them didn’t. The majority of participants made the same poor choice again the next week. (1, 2)
Does this sound familiar?
The majority of us will delude ourselves into thinking we’ll make the smart/healthy/right choice next time. But studies show that doesn’t happen. Odds are, you’ll end up making the same choice you did last time. And this is why you should start your gluten-free diet today. Not tomorrow.
If you don’t start today, odds are you won’t start next week.
Will you go gluten-free today?
Now, you know that your decision to go gluten-free next week is a likely delusion. If you don’t go gluten-free today, you’re probably not going to go gluten-free tomorrow. Or, next week either. Researchers call this an optimism bias. Its a belief that we’ll make better decisions in the future. (3)
I’m just as guilty of the optimism bias as you probably are. This is evidenced in the way in which we estimate the time needed to complete a set or series of tasks. How long will it take you to clean your house? 15 minutes? That’s probably what you’ll tell your friend. But the reality is that to properly clean your house will take more than an hour. This is the optimism bias at work.
So, how do we combat this? How do we successfully start a gluten-free diet?
The optimism bias comes into effect when we view a present choice as part of a series of similar future choices. Take a gluten-free diet for instance. You can choose to go gluten-free today. But you can also delay that choice and make it happen at a future date. If you elect to delay starting a gluten-free diet until next week, you eliminate almost all the guilt of not starting the diet today.
In this context, going gluten-free becomes part of series of future choices. When framed in this way, you’ll often default to going gluten-free at a future date. The problem is that this future date never ends up arriving. This is how to not go gluten-free.
How do you decide to go gluten-free today?
Research shows that simply by becoming aware of your likelihood to have an optimism bias can help shift the way you make decisions. In fact, this worked so well that it dropped the frequency of participants “poor” decision making from 90% to 53%. (4) This blog should provide more than enough information why you shouldn’t delay your decision.
The other way to start your gluten-free diet is to think of the decision as available only in the present moment. Imagine that you aren’t able to make the decision any other day except today. When you frame your thinking and choice in the present, optimism bias tends to be eliminated. You make better decisions when they’re framed in the present moment.
Now, leave this blog and get going on your new gluten-free diet!
I show you how to comfortably start a gluten-free diet here.
Also published on Medium.