How working under tight deadlines could encourage you to indulge in pizza, chocolate cake and sweets

Deadlines could encourage people to indulge in doughnuts, cake and chips, claim scientists. 

Researchers found volunteers were more likely to crave calorific foods when under pressure from a clock counting down from 60 seconds.   

In an era where people are more connected than ever through digital technology, life can feel very busy and time is often considered a scarce resource.

The psychologists behind the study said when people are aware time is running out, they feel a sense of ‘impending exhaustion of a resource’. They are driven to eat to compensate.

Deadlines could make time-pushed people indulge in more calorific foods because they are compensating the feeling of loss with food, a study in India suggests (stock)

Researchers led by the Indian Institute of Management, Udaipur, compared the effects of doing a task using two types of timing.

Downwards timing happens when the clock is ticking down, for example 60 seconds remaining for a task. Upwards timing is the opposite. 

Participants were asked to cross out the letter ‘e’ in a written statement while a timer counted either from one to 60 seconds, or from 60 to one.

Afterwards, they were asked about their likelihood of purchasing chocolate cake or a fruit salad. The researchers did not measure how much food they ate.

Results showed people in the downward time group rated their craving for chocolate cake as eight out of ten, on average.

In contrast, volunteers in the other group rated their craving as being a seven out of ten. They were slightly more likely to want a fruit salad.

In a second part of the study, the researchers tested whether they could reduce drive to eat when the clock is counting down.

One group had a timer counting down the seconds, while others saw the opposite while they did a wordsearch puzzle.

After the puzzle, half of the people in each group were asked to remember two instances when they felt like they had sufficient resources, such as money. 

The other half recalled two mundane, everyday events in their lives, such as taking the bins out. 

Finally, all participants were invited to take sweets and eat them as a thank you for their participation. 


The basic amount of calories an average adult needs per day is 2,000kcal for women or 2,500kcal for men.

This is based on the amount of energy the body needs to carry out basic functions and to walk and work throughout the day.

People who exercise a lot need to eat more calories to fuel their efforts, and young people and children burn more energy, too.

If you eat more calories than you burn in a day, you will get fatter.

Eating fewer calories than you burn will make you lose weight.

Foods which are processed and have high levels of carbohydrate, sugar and salt have higher calorie numbers than fresh fruit and vegetables.

Example calorie counts include:

  • A McDonald’s Big Mac contains 508kcal
  • A two-finger KitKat contains 106kcal
  • A banana contains 95kcal
  • An apple contains 47kcal

Source: NHS  

Those who were exposed to the downward time took more sweets, an average of 7.12, than those who saw time moving upward, who took an average of 6.13. 

But the time-pressured participants did not take more sweets if they had recalled memories of abundant resources.

Study author Dr Ankur Kapoor said: ‘The common and innocuous practice of timekeeping can produce unwanted and undesirable consequences in the domain of calorie consumption.’

Dr Kapoor said he thinks deadlines may affect other areas of life, and not just eating habits.

For example, people who feel they are losing time or ‘resources’ may be less likely to hold a conversation, volunteer, or socialise.  

He said: ‘When time is viewed as a resource, downward time-keeping devices may also create a sense of artificial urgency that could affect an individual’s attitude in other situations, like meals and conversations.’

Other situations where people feel time is slipping away include flash sales, video games, and payment windows to buy music tickets. 

These may all increase the desire to consume junk food, Dr Kapoor said. 

‘In other words, if time in shown moving downwards, such as 60, 59, 58, 57 seconds remaining, then consumers sense an impending exhaustion of a resource and this triggers a desire to compensate for this deficiency by consuming a different resource – calorie,’ he said.

Researchers hope the study will spur further research to explore the psychological effects of other diminishing resources, such as money left in prepaid accounts or battery indicators on smartphones.

Dr Kapoor added: ‘Today, there is an increased ability to monitor things like time, health, sleep and food.

‘We hope that this research provides initial insights into the subtle effects of direction of resource monitoring.’

The findings were published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.