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People regulate their eating behavior in many ways. They may respond to overeating by compensating with healthy eating behavior or increased exercise (i.e., a sensible tradeoff), or by continuing to eat poorly (i.e., disinhibition). Conversely, people may respond to a healthy eating event by subsequently eating poorly (i.e., self-licensing) or by continuing to eat healthily (i.e., promotion spillover). We propose that people may also change their behaviors in anticipation of an unhealthy eating event, a phenomenon that we will refer to as pre-compensation. Using a survey of 430 attendees of the Minnesota State Fair over two years, we explored whether, when, and how people compensated before and after this tempting eating event. We found evidence that people use both pre-compensatory and post-compensatory strategies, with a preference for changing their eating (rather than exercise) behavior. There was no evidence that people who pre-compensated were more likely to self-license by indulging in a greater number of foods or calories at the fair than those who did not. Finally, people who pre-compensated were more likely to also post-compensate. These results suggest that changing eating or exercise behavior before exposure to a situation with many tempting foods may be a successful strategy for enjoying oneself without excessively overeating.
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