The raised clenched fist is an international symbol of protest — and now new research suggests it might literally help you fight the injustice of craving bad foods!  If you’ve ever tensed up while trying to weather an unpleasant situation, you’ll understand why this might work: Muscle tightening helps you marshal strength for action, including rejecting tempting choices, such as the dessert tray or unhealthy snacks on the go.

The study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, monitored 66 undergraduate students of both genders to see how tensing muscles might affect snack buying behavior. The researchers used questionnaires to separate the group into those with long-term health/fitness goals, and those more inclined toward indulgence.  Students were asked to perform an exercise of either loosely or tightly weaving a pen between fingers for 30 seconds before choosing snacks. While the “willpower exercise” had no effect on those heedless-of-health, those concerned with wellness displayed 140% more willpower to make a healthy selection than those who did not use the tensing method. Although often exhausted, willpower may be easily triggered just by making a fist!

According to the study authors, this tensing trick worked “regardless of which muscles were tightened — hand, finger, calf or biceps — while trying to exert self-control.” The exercise also worked with helping withstand physical discomfort, or deal with emotional distress. The takeaway: When temptation strikes, strike back by tensing up your muscles. Other tricks to try:

Upsize your fork: Though smaller plates help with portion control, smaller forks were found to actually prompt overeating, so try a larger fork for better meal control.

Switch hands: Leftie? Try using your right hand — and vice versa — to slow down how you chow down.

Break out of a weight plateau by getting in a diet rut — eating the same meal day after day will lead you to consume fewer calories (but choose your rut wisely, incorporating fruit, veggies, and lean protein).

Start with soup — or salad — a proven method to increase fullness, and lower total calorie consumption.

Published October 1, 2012