Can the “Happy Meal Effect” Help You Lose Weight?

Can rewarding yourself with small non-food items really make a difference in your waistline? That’s the question researchers from the University of Arizona asked themselves before embarking on a unique study of how positive reinforcement can change our diets. And, the results are simply shocking!

The study was inspired by McDonald’s Happy Meal. For years nutritionists have railed against the fast food industry for marketing toward children, offering impressionable minds positive reinforcement for poor food choices. And, while the Happy Meal has undergone significant renovations since its launch in 1977 (now offering healthier options like apples, and yogurt) it’s still generally not the healthiest option for young Americans.

Researchers wondered if the same marketing ploy–pairing food items with non-food rewards (a.k.a. toys)–could be “a force for good” to combat the growing obesity problem in the United States.

The Happy Meal Diet Explained

Using experimental studies, researchers found that both children and adults were willing to eat less (smaller portion size meals) when offered either a reward (such as cheap ear buds) or even the chance at a reward (a lottery ticket potentially worth up to $100). Even more surprising was the fact that most participants didn’t eat more after to compensate for the smaller meal.

Neurologically this phenomenon works because both food and the non-food reward activated the same area in the brain associated with rewards (the striatum). This means that people get the same mental/emotional effect from receiving non-food items as they do from eating more.

What the Happy Meal Effect Means for You

You can use the “Happy Meal Effect” to help you on your weight loss journey. By using small, non-food rewards you can rewire your brain’s relationship with food and essentially be happier eating less. The key to success with this method is ensuring that the rewards are personally significant—something that you really want. Examples could include:

  • $5 Amazon gift cards
  • Books
  • iTunes or Kindle purchases
  • Lottery tickets
  • Movie rentals
  • New nail polish
  • Manicures/pedicures
  • Inexpensive jewelry

And the list goes on.

The Happy Meal Effect & The Hollywood Cookie Diet®—a Recipe for Success

You can pair the Happy Meal Effect with The Hollywood Cookie Diet® for even greater success. Our cookies contain protein and fiber so that your appetite will be satisfied without the high caloric punch. They’re designed to be meal and/or snack replacement options.

Adding in a small, non-food reward can positively reinforce the relationship between your healthy choice and that feel-good mental buzz you get from the reward. Before long you won’t feel like you’re missing out when you choose a nutritional cookie rather than a fatty fast food lunch. And the results you’ll see and feel are rewards themselves!

So don’t let your food hold you hostage. Learn to break-free from bad habits and eat less through the power of positive reinforcement.