“I don’t need to exercise, because I eat healthily…”

Do you often have thoughts like this? Or have you been known to say something like this when someone questions your health? If so, you are engaging in Self-Licensing.

Similar to that of Compensatory Health Beliefs, Self-Licensing is a mental tool we use when faced with a decision about certain behaviours. Except in this instance the focus is on doing a healthy behaviour, rather than avoiding the negative consequences of an unhealthy behaviour.

And as you may have guessed, self-licensing is not a very helpful thought process to have…

When you give yourself the freedom to not do a certain health behaviour, because you feel you already do enough as is, you are potentially missing out some specific health benefits that you would have gotten otherwise. Take this title for example:

“I don’t need to exercise, because I eat healthily”

So sure getting a healthy diet is very important. I would also argue that nutrition is a more important factor in the hierarchy of health factors, compared to exercise. However, if you were to eat as healthy as possible, but do nothing all day, you’re still going to run into some problems! Muscle decay, mental fatigue, weight gain etc. These are all issues related to a sedentary lifestyle, and require physical activity to overcome.

Having this line of thinking can also backfire on us too. Research supports the idea that self-licensing can be used a justification for unhealthy behaviours, including the overconsumption of unhealthy foods (de Witt Huberts, Evers, and de Ridder, 2012).


For the Psychologists…
J. C. de Witt Huberts, C. Evers, & D. T. D. de Ridder (2012). License to sin: Self‐licensing as a mechanism underlying hedonic consumption. European Journal of Social Psychology, 42(4), 490-496.

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