Monday, August 18, 2008
In case you haven't heard, SparkPeople has launched a brand new blog-style website called dailySpark.com . Instead of adding new blog entries here on my SparkPage, I'll be blogging there from now on, along with our other Coaches and experts!
To learn more about what the dailySpark is all about, check out this article for a full explanation.
Go to www.dailySpark.com anytime to read and comment on the new and interesting posts made daily by all of SparkPeople's experts! There, you can find my bio and blog entries by following this link .
I'll see you at the dailySpark!
Friday, August 08, 2008
Have you ever wondered why social support is so important for a project like weight loss?
There are lots of ways social support can help you out, of course. Being involved in a group of people trying to do the same thing you are can be a great source of reliable information, good examples, inspirational stories, and moral support when things get tough.
But people often overlook another very important way that social support can help increase your chances of success: by harnessing the power of the human desire and need to "fit in."
The fact is, we are social animals, and we come hardwired with a lot of needs, preferences, and desires that make it pretty hard to "go it alone" when it comes to anything important. We want people to respect us, like us, and approve of who we are and what we do; we need to feel like we belong to a group. Getting this kind of response from others is a pretty basic motivation behind a lot of what we do. It's probably a pretty big part of your motivation to lose weight in the first place.
For many years, our society has tended to make fun of social conformity and conformists, and to hold up the rebel or the "rugged individualist" who doesn't care what other people think as a more worthy ideal--at least for men. Even our psychological theories about what constitutes a healthy personal identity and sense of self tend to emphasize concepts like "self-determination" and having good "boundaries." If you hang out on the message boards much, you'll see lots of conversations about how hard it is to stick to a healthy diet or exercise plan when the people you spend most of your time with aren't very interested in this kind of thing. And a lot of the advice people give is along the lines of "you just have to do what's right for you, and put yourself first."
That's true enough. But it's also very hard to do that, exactly because we're not really designed to go it alone, without worrying about how other people see us. In fact, our chances of succeeding at something like weight loss go up dramatically when we get into just the opposite situation--when the people around us provide some pressure and incentive to do the right thing, and doing our best to fit in helps us stick to our goals at the same time.
In other words, one of the best ways to ensure your own success is to find (or build) yourself a community where doing what you need to do to meet your weight loss goals is also what it takes to "conform" to the group's expectations . This can more than double your motivation to stick to your goals when the going gets tough. But it takes a special kind of group to provide this extra motivation--one where people understand the difficulties members face, and are committed to mutual respect, active participation, and reciprocal well-being and success through cooperation, mutual support, and effective communication. A group where the process is just as important as the goal. But also a group that expects you to do well, and counts on you to make your best effort.
An on-line community like ours here at SP can play a big role in boosting your success, but often real-life connections can really enhance the group effect. That's one of the reasons why we've introduced our new SparkAmerica city leaderboards for sparkteams in the same geographical area. Each city's page includes info about local events and resources that members can add to and update themselves. This gives people an easy way to share info and feedback about local events and other ways to hook up face-to-face, so sparkpeople can get and give each other even more support than you can in our on-line community.
So, be sure to check out what's going on in your local area . If there's not a city page for your local area yet, think about what you can do yourself to get something like this going in your community within the organizations and groups (including sparkteams) that are active there.
Here's an entertaining video that demonstrates the power of our human need to fit in.... But remember, being a conformist is only as good (or as bad) as the group you're trying to conform to--it's doing your part to make the group as good as it can be that really makes things work. What you get out of being part of your community depends on what you put into it.
Friday, August 01, 2008
You've probably heard of "aversion" therapy--that's where you take some behavior you're trying to stop and pair it with an immediate negative experience (like an electric shock) so that your brain starts associating that behavior with the negative experience. Alcoholics, for example, sometimes take a drug called Antabuse, which literally makes you sick if you take a drink.
This is a little harder to do when the behavior you want to stop is a mental behavior, but sometimes using a little imagination and a powerful visual image can do the trick. For example, consider that silly mental behavior we all tend to engage in once in a while (if not more often): the "I've already blown my diet for today, so I might as well keep eating" game.
Obviously, this is nothing but a flagrant rationalization. If you stopped for even a second to think about it, you'd realize that going even further over your calorie quota makes no sense at all. It just makes repairing the damage even harder. But the real problem here is not that you use rationalizations that don't make sense. The real problem, of course, is that you want to keep eating, and that's the thing you need to change. Once you do that, the rationalizations and excuses will disappear on their own.
Unfortunately, just telling yourself that your rationalization doesn't really make sense isn't usually enough to change the desire to keep eating into something else. For that, you need to connect the desire to some kind of undersirable experience or image, so that your brain will be desperate to go somewhere else when it pops up.
You could do something like hit yourself in the head whenever the urge to keep eating comes up, but that would be pretty inconsistent with the healthy lifestyle approach we recommend here at SP. This is where you need to use a little imagination to get the job done. Instead of fighting the urge, or telling yourself how dumb it is, try taking it to the extreme, in your mind. Imagine, for a minute, what it would be like to never have to stop eating, and see how that makes you feel. Is that really what you want, or how you want to be?
For those of you who have trouble imagining something like this, here's a link to a video you can use to get your creative juices flowing:
Thursday, July 31, 2008
For those of you participating in the experiment (see earlier blog with Einstein photo), you can post your results as a comment below. Please include how many times you were and weren't successful at your goal, and what words you substituted for the "m" word. I hope you'll also share whatever observations you have about whether doing this made it easier to stick to your goal, harder, or made no difference.
I'll summarize the results and go over the theory in a couple of days.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Here's a new concept that could make losing weight a lot easier: emotional not-eating.
We all know how easy and tempting it is to reach for something to eat--especially something that's sweet, rich, or salty--in times of stress. "Comfort" eating and "emotional" eating are two of the biggest problems for most people who struggle with their weight.
But one of the odd things about comfort eating has always been that it rarely actually makes us feel good for more than a couple of minutes. After that, we quickly end up feeling guilty or upset--especially if we're trying to eat healthy or lose weight. But still we do it, even though we know how bad we're going to feel as soon as we're done. That immediate reward we get from it really conditions us to reach for the food, and before you know it, you've got an automatic habit on your hands that's very hard to break.
Wouldn't it be nice if NOT reaching for something to eat in times of stress produced that same kind of feel-good reward? It sure would make it easier to break the habit of comfort/emotional eating.
Well, guess what? According to some recent research, those good feelings may be just what you can experience if you can manage to get past that first impulse to eat something when you need a little comfort.
Nutrition scientists have known for a while that, when our bodies notice we need more calories, levels of a hormone called ghrelin increase. Rising ghrelin levels produce hunger, but new research suggests this may be a side effect of its primary job as a stress-buster and feel-good chemical.
In this study, researchers manipulated ghrelin levels in mice through prolonged calorie restriction, ghrelin injection and a genetic modification rendering the mice numb to ghrelin’s effect, in order to observe the effects. What they found was the the mice with low ghrelin levels (ie, those who had eaten recently) seemed depressed. If pushed into deep water they made no effort to swim. When introduced to a maze, they clung to the entryway. And when placed with other mice, they tended to keep to themselves. (These behaviors were reversed when the mice were given a low-dose antidepressant commonly prescribed to humans.)
In contrast, mice with high levels of ghrelin swam energetically in deep water, looking for escape. They eagerly explored new environments. And they were much more social.
As the article describing this study (see link below) says, this makes a lot of practical sense. The time when we most need a lot of energy, ambition, and high expectations of success is when we're hungry and need food--that's what gets us off our duffs and out looking for food.
Now, mice aren't people, and it's not clear yet how much these effects of higher ghrelin levels will transfer to people. And the researchers say that these postive effects of high ghrelin levels may not occur until someone has lost about 10-15% of their excess body weight.
But, if you struggle with emotional eating, it just might pay to give this experiment a little try yourself. If you can manage to get comfortable with mild hunger long enough to get your weight down 10% or so, you might find that eating less actually makes you feel pretty good, gives you more energy, and makes it a lot easier to avoid the autopilot eating associated with emotional and comfort eating. It's certainly true that many people who learn to eat "clean" and do without much comfort eating report that they get a lot of positive feelings from this.
You don't want to go too far with this, of course, to the point that you're half-starving yourself in order to get those good feelings. Try approaching this the way those people in Okinawa, Japan (the ones who live to be 115) do it--push yourself away from the table when your about 80% full.
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