How Can Temptation Bundling Help Your Weight Loss Patients be Healthier?
— By Dawn M. Sweet, Ph.D
Temptation bundling can help increase exercise and make otherwise non-preferred behaviors more instantly gratifying.
While lifestyle changes such as physical activity and exercise are often discussed in the context of losing and maintaining a healthy weight1, these changes can be difficult to implement.
One approach that holds promise is temptation bundling. Temptation bundling involves pairing an indulgence with an activity or behavior that yields delayed rewards.2 For example, going to the gym and riding the stationary bike while you watch the latest episode of your favorite TV show.
Each day we make decisions that affect not only our “present” selves, but also our “future” selves — a version of us we become a few weeks, months or years down the road. It’s not uncommon to be to hyper-focused on the present, and those indulgences that afford us pleasure in the here and now. However, we are seemingly in a daily “want-should” conflict where we make choices that will either gratify our present selves or our future selves.2 The “want” that is satisfied by the instant gratification experienced in the here and now — eating that extra slice of cake, watching just one more episode of latest bingeable TV show — can make it difficult to choose something that we know will benefit our future selves because of present bias. Present bias is a cognitive bias wherein we tend to place more importance on immediate rewards rather than delayed rewards.3 While this bias may be difficult to overcome, it may not be impossible with the help of temptation bundling.
Temptation bundling mitigates present bias because it makes behaviors that are associated with delayed gratification, exercise, for example, more gratifying in the present.2 Research has shown negative consequences for health are associated when there is an established pattern of choosing wants over shoulds.2
Temptation Bundling and Exercise
The effects of temptation bundling and exercise were investigated in one of the largest field-experiments conducted to date.2 Study participants (N = 6,792) were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: audiobook with encouragement to temptation bundle, audiobook only, or a control group. The study lasted for 28 days with a 17 week follow up. The biggest increases in likelihood to go to the gym weekly — “10–14 percent and average weekly gym visits by 10–12 percent during and for up to 17 weeks after a four-week intervention period” — was observed in participants in the free audiobook with encouragement to temptation bundle. The authors also have evidence to suggest that providing participants with free audiobooks during gym visit increased gym visits by 11 percent during the 28-day intervention and by 18 percent during the four weeks post-intervention. This finding is especially intriguing because it suggests that some people may not need explicit instructions for temptation bundling. The very presence of the “want” (e.g., a free audiobook) in the “should” context (e.g., the gym) can be enough for some to temptation bundling on their own. These results are promising and suggest that clinicians can effect change by introducing their patients to temptation bundling.
Patients with Obesity and Temptation Bundling
Temptation bundling is a strategy to help people mitigate present bias and succeed in their pursuit of long-term health goals. In short, temptation bundling can lead to long-term behavior change. Clinicians should consider teaching their patients with obesity to temptation bundle because of the potential for positive health outcomes, and its potential for breaking non-preferred habits.
While free audiobooks at local gyms may not be possible for many, clinicians can offer creative suggestions such as advising clients to find local gyms that have TVs built into the cardio equipment so they can watch one of their favorite TV shows while exercise. Downloading favorite podcasts or taking advantage of public libraries’ free selection of audiobooks are also viable options as part of adding temptation bundling into weight loss programs. Adding or increasing exercise to a medically-supervised weight management program via temptation bundling can jump start weight loss for patients with obesity and satisfy both their present selves and future selves.