“Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,

Those days of soda, and pretzels, and beer.”

Wait a minute, hold the soda, at least if you live in New York City.  As you know, the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, has proposed a ban on sodas and other sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces as part of his efforts to battle the obesity epidemic.  After approval by the city’s Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, the ban will go into effect in March, 2013.

Some have decried this proposal as another instance of “the nanny state.”  They resent the intrusion into their food choices.  Others decry the proposal as ineffective, since someone who wanted a 32- ounce soda could simply buy two 16-ounce sodas. 

I’m for it. This proposal's limitation on anyone's freedom is trivial. I don't buy the argument that it will  be ineffective either.  In fact, I would argue that this gentle limit on soda consumption could increase your willpower.  Here’s how:

Let’s say, New Yorker, that you order a 16-ounce cup of your favorite sugary, carbonated beverage.  You know you should cut down for your health, but you are a soda junkie and you’re not ready to change.  Now you’ve finished your soda and your food, and you still might want more soda.  Will you order more?

The mere fact that you are asking this question is increasing your willpower.  Willpower is using the conscious, executive part of your brain to reach a goal, rather than letting automatic habit take over.  So, whereas you might have simply downed a 32-ounce soda on automatic pilot before, now you are pausing and thinking.

The “pause-and-plan” response is your self-control response.  You begin to monitor how your body feels on 16 ounces of sugar water.  You might decide, “OK, I feel water-logged. That’s enough.” Or you might decide, “I’ll have another.”  Either way, you are giving yourself the freedom to choose, rather than mindlessly drinking more than you want or need.  In the process, you’ve strengthened your willpower because you’ve activated your higher brain, the pre-frontal cortex (PFC).  This pause truly is “the pause that refreshes.”

What I call “changepower” is also at work here.  “Changepower” is adding outside support to your willpower.  If you want to ingest fewer sugary beverages, the new law will help you do that by instilling in you a new social norm by which to judge your soda-drinking behavior.  Before, you thought it was normal to gulp down a Big Gulp.  Now you’re not so sure.  You’re re-thinking, and that’s good.  Lack of portion control is a prime culprit for obesity, so right-sizing your portions is a step in the right direction. Plus, you still have the freedom to drink more, if that’s what you want. 

Actually, this new law combines the best of all possible worlds!

Okay, we've discussed the soda. Now let’s talk about the pretzels and beer...

(c) Meg Selig

To take a look at my book, Changepower: 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009), click here. For short updates on topics of willpower, habits, and health, follow me on Facebook or Twitter.



"Pause and plan." McGonigal, K. The Willpower Instinct (2012). NY: Avery

Do you know your soda serving sizes? Fun test here. Hope you do better than I did. 


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