Don’t know about you, but the eater-blogger posting this entry has long avoided eating too many potato chips (uh, that would be the whole bag) by simply not buying them for the pantry at home. It has worked for a couple of decades. So has the same strategy for Kit Kat bars, though Halloween and trick-or-treaters who live under the same roof can sorely test a man.

Belgian researchers has released a new study suggesting this keep-the-cupboards-bare-of-junk-foods to be less than optimal strategy for controlling food cravings and overeating. The researchers at Lessius Hogeschool in Antwerpen found that keeping sweet treats around in the homes of female college students can actually result in greater self-control.

Let lead author Kelly Geyskens take the first crack at explaining why: “The main message is that banishing food temptations may not be the best way to limit the amount eaten. Tempting foods [kept at home but not consumed] can actually increase willpower,” she told a Reuters news reporter.

There is some common sense in this study. A good number of nutritionists subscribe to the credo that “no food is bad” but that it’s portion size that matters. For example, dark chocolate (look for at least 70 percent cocoa) continues to rack up health kudos from researchers but only if you eat the equivalent of one 100-gram bar or a small square per day.

As for chips or doughnuts that provide what dieticians call “empty calories,” it’s not the occasional treat that sabotages weight control but making it a regular habit. So, sure, go ahead, add a few chips to your lunch plate or savor a really good homemade doughnut when meeting an old friend for coffee, just don’t morph “occasional” to “often” to “oh, what’s the difference, my weight control program is so far gone.”

For the study, Geyskens and her Belgian colleagues asked volunteer female college students to undergo differing tests of food willpower.

The guise was that a candy company was conducting some market research.

In one test, the young women were shown photos of the candy but not allowed any chance to sample the goods. That provided a reasonable facsimile of an advertisement.

In a second test group, the women were shown the photos and also presented a bowl of the candy they could not eat (right, slightly cruel in a sort of way).

But, as it turned out, when the students were immediately tempted by a bowl of M&M’s they were free to eat, the women who were presented a bowl of candy and not just photos performed better at resisting the candy altogether or not overeating. The study will be published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Consumer Research this December.

For Geyskens’ part, she wrote, “In fact, if you avoid food temptations by banishing them, you will never or rarely experience self-control conflict … we believe self control can be trained. When a new temptation situation subsequently arises, these strategies will be activated again” to resist overdoing it with occasional treats.”

In related research work, Purdue University food scientist Ron Mattes has documented that some seemingly forbidden snacks and goodies might actually help you feel more satisfied on physiological and emotional levels so you don’t overeat when the temptation arises.

Mattes has conducted a number of experiments showing that eating a serving of nuts (let’s say one to two handfuls, if you are willing to distinguish between “handful” and “fistful”) about an hour before dinner can in fact help you eat significantly less overall unhealthy fat during the pre-dinner snack and subsequent buffet dinner compared to, drum roll, please, snackers who ate rice cakes.

It seems the rice cakes are not satisfying to the metabolism or mind, so the volunteer subjects consistently ate more calories and more saturated fat at dinner than the nut eaters. There is a delicious moral in that research story—and a practical application too. Next time you snack on a rice cake, give it a smear of nut butter (or do the same with a cut-up apple). You will feel more satisfied and less tempted.