Study: Love Makes You Eat Healthier

The latest research is lovely for health. [Thinkstock] Although love can make you do some pretty stupid things, turns out, it can also help you make wiser choices when you're craving a snack.

That's the finding from a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Behaviour.

In an effort to uncover how subtle messages can make us opt for healthier snacks, researchers at Northern Kentucky University set out to see whether people were influenced by reminders of love or sex.

To do so, they showed 97 college students one of two food menus. Each menu contained a list of typical snacks including an apple, an orange, raisins, a cereal bar, Hershey's chocolate, Skittles and a Snickers bar. The only difference between the two menus was a subtle background image of either hearts or kisses across the page.

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Based on a pre-test with participants, the hearts insinuated companionate love-the type of intimate, heart-warming, long-term relationship where sex does not play the dominant role (as it does with hooking up). The kisses, on the other hand, evoked thoughts of arousal and relationships that are more about sex versus thinking about where you're going to spend the holidays next year.

In the end, reminders of companionate love (the heart symbols) led to a greater likelihood of making more nutritious eating choices, while the lips symbols didn't cause people to kiss off the unhealthy snacks.

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Short of plastering our refrigerators with tiny cut-out hearts (aww), study author David Raska, Ph.D., an assistant professor of marketing at Northern Kentucky University says that the type of relationships we choose can influence our eating habits. "When there's a long-term relationship people think more concretely, so it makes sense that they might think about their future health and make healthier choices," he notes.

Of course, even with a partner in the picture, we all like to indulge from time to time. (Chips and chocolate? Yes, please.) So unless there is some type of reminder that makes us think about our long-term health, Raska says we are more likely to sabotage our diet.

Bring on the hearts.

QUIZ: How Healthy Are Your Eating Habits?

By Deborah Dunham

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