Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Exactly Why Do We Eat? And, Why Do We Keep Eating When We’re Not Even Hungry?

We humans tend to eat a lot of food. A typical human eats over a thousand pounds of food every year. 

Remember Pavlov and his dogs? Pavlov rings the bell, the dog pushes his lever, starts drooling and is ready to eat its reward.  Guess what? Most of us are just as conditioned to eat when we’re not even hungry as those dogs. Unlike the dogs, we can identify those triggers that set us off—and defuse them—once we know what they are. 

Example. You’re at lunch with co-workers. It’s the super-duper Wednesday All-You-Can-Eat buffet at the Food Palace. Think back—you’re sitting at a table with 15 of your closest co-workers, and each of you heads to the buffet table, and then back, and then some go back again. Do you know a recent study found that when eating with only eight other people you are likely to consume almost twice as many calories as if you were eating alone?

And more—According to researchers at Harvard University and the University of San Diego, your chances of becoming overweight are tied to the weight of your friends. Nicholas Christakis, a physician and sociologist at Harvard explains this phenomenon in his book “Connected.” He calls it “sharing behavior.”

Next Example. A Yale University study found that snacking, calories consumed and watching TV were closely related. (Really?) This study found that TV viewers who saw snack commercials, which are hard to miss, were stimulated (back to Pavlov’s dogs) to eat, and not just the brand item from the commercial. They also found that the snacking was mindless, and had nothing to do with either hunger or fullness. 

And, One More Example. Have you ever noticed how even the smell or suggestion of food, certain words, and, much less the sight of food can trigger a real feeling of hunger? Even if you just ate an hour ago and aren’t even hungry. A University of Illinois study found that people consumed 54 percent more calories when exposed to posters advertising exercise, using words such as “active,”  than those exposed to posters without a workout theme. Where you eat makes a difference too. Brightly lit settings can result in faster eating, while soft lighting or candlelight can result in slower eating—both lead to over-consumption. 

While it seems that almost everything can lead to overeating,  and that just about everything can lead to weight gain, just knowing that this is the reality means you can adjust it.

It’s hard to change what you don’t know—but once you become aware of the signals around you, you put yourself in charge of your response. So the question is, how will you choose to  respond?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

One Step Forward – One Step at a Time

Remember Wimpy? I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today . . . Actually Wimpy was planning ahead. And, that’s a good thing.

I’m going to start out with the bad news. We all fail. Sometimes we do it in a big, public way, and sometimes it’s a private affair. But, if we’re smart, determined and resourceful, we don’t let it stop us. This is what we mean by treating setbacks as guides not brakes. It’s not the failures that define who we are, and when we use failure to move forward in a positive direction, they can certainly nudge us into the person we want to be. 

So how does planning ahead nudge us forward? Think about a game of chess. Planning ahead, thinking ahead, can mean the difference in meeting your goals and in how you recover from setbacks. Thinking ahead means taking the present, looking at where you are, picturing where you want to be, and then using that to plan the future. What time do you have to get up to walk around the block? How about walk around the block twice? What do you need to pack for lunch to avoid the fast food solution? What do you need to plan to have on hand for when the afternoon (or mid-morning) “I have to have a snack” attack hits? What do you have to do now to prepare for when you most need to rely on your motivation, which might be exactly when you are least likely to make the choice that will move you forward?

Take it as truth that the key to making things happen the way we envision them is in planning ahead and then visualizing what we want and how we will feel when we achieve it, and this means setting a number of mini-goals. Do one thing to get to the next. And, then on to the next.

Committing to a behavioral lifestyle change takes not only time, but ongoing effort. It works in both directions—you didn’t get where you are in one step, and you won’t get where you want to be in one step. But, step, by planned step, you’ll get there.

Think about your goal, think about your actions, make your plan—and then make it work. Just planning ahead all by itself will move you closer to those goals. And, then the job becomes to commit—not quit.