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Talk about a catch-22: Doing something healthy, like eating a low-cal meal, can make you less likely to exercise and more likely to gorge yourself with food later on. This is because of a phenomenon scientists call licensing, which happens when we feel that we've earned the right to be self-indulgent. Most people have a tendency to want to balance things out, says Kathleen Vohs, PhD, an associate professor of marketing at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. So when we do one thing that's good for our health, which often requires exerting plenty of discipline and self-control, we like to follow it up with something that lets us indulge ourselves.
So how do you lose your license to overeat? Being alert to the fact that good choices can trigger bad behavior is a smart start. Next time you're tempted, think of an instance in the past when you failed to resist; recent research found that you'll want to improve on your previous performance.