Thursday, June 23, 2011
Today's Toronto Globe and Mail has a great article on how motivation works in the brain, at the level of actual neuro activity in the various structures of the brain. I've provided the link, above, in case you want to read the whole thing. And it's a fascinating story, given that motivation is something that concerns so many of us. However, it's not exactly your "easy read", so here's the condensed version related to the weight loss experience (at least, so far as I'm I'm able to understand it myself).
Essentially, the neuroscience researcher Mark Fenske has discovered that positive motivation arises when the "reward" centres of the brain win out over the "loss" centres of the brain.
In other words, in deciding whether to pursue any particular goal -- including weight loss-- the brain performs a kind of cost/benefit analysis. The motivation story is about an internal battle between various centres of the brain.
We decide to accomplish a goal, such as losing weight. Then our brain considers: How rewarding would it be to accomplish the goal? Some areas of the brain evaluate the rewards (for weight loss, better health, better appearance . . . all the reasons we have to lose weight) -- and a positive evaluation of the rewards associated with a particular goal will result at least initially in motivation. We're gung ho!! We're roaring off all speed ahead to lose a pound a day!! Yay!!
And quickly lose momentum. Because the brain's motivation centres are continually dealing with backtalk from other brain areas. No one likes to be unsuccessful, or to pay more to achieve something than it is worth to him or her.
So these "backtalk" or demotivation brain centres ask other questions designed to protect us from the sting of failure. How likely is it that I will be unable to accomplish the goal? These negative and anxiety-stimulating brain centres evaluate the risks I won't be successful (how many times have I tried in the past and not stuck with the program, or lost weight only to regain it again? and how difficult was it to lose that weight in the first place?)
If these risk and loss factors seem very large, then the brain decides to submit to demotivation rather than experience defeat. The brain determines, for example, that weight loss would require too much effort getting out of bed to exercise, it would require too many sacrifices of delicious foods in social situations, and that in any case I won't be able to keep it up. The result? Giving up. Regaining the weight loss in that first flush of enthusiasm. And probably a few more pounds.
Do it. Don't do it. Do it. Don't do it. When it comes to motivation, or its opposite demotivation, apparently that's what happening inside our brains all of the time. A measurable brain battle of conflicting neuroactivities.
So: how can we strengthen the motivation centres of the brain and weaken the demotivation centres?
This brain battle doesn't need to be an unconscious one.
We can choose quite deliberately to focus on the positive brain signals.
We can deliberately choose to pay greater attention to the positive "do it" signals.
We can deliberately choose to pay less attention to the negative "don't do it" signals.
After all, because I had failed to lose weight up until age 50 did not mean that I was destined never to lose weight. I did lose 80 pounds between 2001 and 2002. I have kept it off, and since January I have lost about 10 pounds more and kept it off. I now weigh more than 90 pounds less than I did in 2002. But: I was yoyoing, fluctuating.
Using the Judith S. Beck Advantage Response cards (from her book, The Diet Solution) was simply a method of focusing my attention on the rewards of losing weight. To adopt her language, it was a method of strengthening the resistance muscles and weakening the giving-in muscles. It was a method of learning to think like a thin person. And for now at least it does seem to have stopped the yo-yoing of that last 10 pounds on/off/on/off.
"Do it" (motivation) is winning: "don't do it" (demotivation) is losing. My brain battle was made manifest in my body: up 10 pounds, down 10 pounds, up 10 pounds, down 10 pounds.
I stopped permitting myself to dwell on fear of failure. I stopped permitting myself to focus on how hard it is to plan my nutrition and exercise.
Instead I have deliberately chosen to pay attention to the rewards of clothing that fits, feeling slim and healthy.
And I've discovered that it isn't that hard to plan nutrition and exercise, especially with the SP trackers. I've learned that sustaining the motivation to maintain weight loss has simply turned out not to be as hard as I had anticipated.
At least most days!!
The Fenske research on the brain battle of motivation reinforces my experience with Judith S. Beck and with SparkPeople.
We're here to pay attention to the centres of the brain that focus on the rewards of weight loss: better health, better appearance . . . . all of that.
On a cost/benefit analysis: yeah. It's worth it. So worth it.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Love those tubes of fresh herbs.
Nobody else in my household is really keen on fresh herbs. For me, they add flavour and vitamins and colour to my soups and salad dressings and omelettes without much in the way of additional calories. So I'm a big fan.
But when I buy a whole bunch of dill, or cilantro, then generally speaking I won't get it all used up before it's gone a bit slimy. Which has gotta be sub-optimal. Whereas a tube of fresh chopped cilantro comprises three average bunches and stays fresh to the end. And in addition, if I want, say, "Italian" then I'd have to buy a bunch of basil, and a bunch of rosemary, and a bunch of Italian parsley, and a bunch of . . . you get the idea. Which means that the tube of mixed chopped fresh herbs in whatever "ethnic" variation is also a terrific idea.
So yeah. Getting a tube of fresh chopped herbs is a huge bargain.
And this morning when I was preparing this week's pot of curried lentil soup, I added a big squirt of the fresh cilantro right at the end. Mmmm. Delicious.
As a person who looks for and raises Monarch caterpillars every summer on milkweed leaves until they spin up into their jade green chrysalises, and then ultimately hatch and fly away, I'm really not all that squeamish about the back end of caterpillars either.
Still, while making my soup this morning it did occur to me . . . and I immediately suppressed that thought. Firmly. Because I really like fresh herbs. And am not a vulgar person, not at all!!
Saturday, June 18, 2011
CMRAND54 has a wonderful blog -- link above -- about learning how to waste food. Not eating everything on your plate. Discarding part of the cheese. Setting aside the top half of the bun. Selecting only the most perfect fries, the ones that are "just right": neither too limp or too dark. Then dumping the rest because they're just not good enough to be worth the calories.
This blog reminds me of my mother, who had the same super-efficient metabolism I "enjoy" and that my daughter "enjoys" as well.
Mum was a fitness instructor in the early 50s at the local YWCA, long before fitness classes were the norm. When we went dress shopping together (mother in her girdle and bra and garter belt and nylon stockings and slip and heels and day dress and short white gloves and small hat with a veil: my sister and I in matching Mary Janes and ankle socks and slips and crisp starched hand-smocked cotton dresses), she prided herself on fitting into a size 16. The very same size, she'd tell us, as Marilyn Monroe.
Back home for supper? She did not require us to "eat everything on our plates, or no dessert". She did not entertain us with harrowing tales about the starving children in India.
She'd shake her head when my father offered her a second helping of roast beef and potatoes. Take just a sliver of her own superb home-baked apple pie. Then push aside part of that portion, and sip a cup of black coffee instead.
"Better it should go to waste than to my waist," she'd say.
Self-regulation. That is the question. And the necessity, if that's the reality of your biological legacy.
Unfair? Maybe so. But on the other hand, both my daughter and I also inherited my mother's double cheek dimples!!
Friday, June 17, 2011
Work all done: and it was a fairly tough slog.
Isn't Friday evening one of the best times of the week?
Saturday and Sunday stretch ahead. Twenty-four hours in each one! Chores, sure, they need to get done: and I wanna go to the gym, too.
But there will be time to unwind. Relax. Have fun.
Jammies, a book. No need to set the alarm.
Friday evening. Ahhhhhhh.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
The Toronto Globe and Mail is running an interesting series on all-day kindergarten, and the impact full-day kindergarten may have on early childhood development.
In Ontario this past year, there has been a controversial experiment with tax-payer funded all day kindergarten for junior and senior kindergartens at selected schools. Lots of parents like it, because it reduces the costs of daycare for working mothers and (when integrated with in-school daycares before and after kindergarten) creates a seamless day for little people without those worrying transitions to the daycare provider. On the other hand, lots of tax payers don't like it, because obviously all-day kindergarten dramatically increases early education costs.
My own kids are long past kindergarten age: they were lucky enough to have every day half day kindergarten still available to them, which seemed to me the happiest compromise at the time. And I was able to be home with them for the other half day, no daycare required. We did all kinds of fun things during those half days together. But I've got to acknowledge, very few kids now will be at home with mum if they're not in school. So it's a debate I've followed with some interest.
So far, the early results do seem to indicate that most children make big big gains with the all day kindergarten programme. But it's not so much about rapid intellectual prowess with reading or numbers: the all-day kindergarten program has focused on a "play-based" curriculum. It's when kids first learn to love school and learning that they will later learn to love reading and writing and everything else that is part of the academic world: you can get kids reading early, but if they hate it they won't continue to build upon those early academic gains. So the full-day play based kindergarten program gains have been mostly with social and emotional development: EQ (emotional quotient) gains. Here's the link if you'd like to read the whole story.
What's this got to do with Spark topics of weight loss/weight maintenance? It's the old IQ/EQ debate: and yes, EQ matters so much more.
The article references a 40-year-old Stanford study in which kindergarten-age students were subjected to the "marshmallow test": the child was left with a tempting marshmallow for 15 minutes, and told that if he or she could resist eating the marshmallow, then at the end of the test he could have two marshmallows.
About 30% of the children tested at age four were able to "self-regulate". Regardless of whether they were early readers, or had early numeracy skills (indicating high IQ, intellectual quotient) those self-regulators were the kids with high EQ (emotional quotient).
Follow up testing over the subsequent 40 years has apparently established that those children who at age four had high EQ and were the best "self-regulators" tended in turn to become the most successful in later years academically (intellectually) AND socially.
The early self-regulators got better grades and more education and higher-earning careers. But they were also most likely to avoid sexual promiscuity, drug and obesity problems.
Well, I guess it's too late for me to go back and take the four year old marshmallow test!
But I've been joking for some time that I can resist anything but temptation. So I try hard to avoid temptation by re-arranging my environment. If I had known at four what I know now, I would have hidden that marshmallow behind the plasticine or the building blocks and then possibly been able to wait out the 15 minutes!!
Judith S. Beck's "Diet Solution" is really about catch-up training in self-regulation: learning to think like a thin person. Beck tells us that NO CHOICE matters, that it's important not to eat standing up and to stick with the pre-planned meals -- not so much because of the calories involved (which might be relatively trivial) but because every time we submit to temptation we strengthen the "giving -in" muscle, and every time we self-regulate, we strengthen the "resistance muscle".
Makes sense. Many of us don't need more "intelligence" about weight loss: we know what we need to do. I've known so many pretty smart, pretty accomplished people who've achieved a great deal in other areas of their lives but just cannot lick obesity. That's in part what's so frustrating. Because it's so frustrating to have all the other accomplishments undercut by the (visible, constant, health-harming) evidence of failure in the obesity self-regulation area.
The difficulty is making ourselves do what we know we need to do: resisting that marshmallow, the trick we needed to have learned at age four or so.
What we need is more EQ, remedial self-regulation. And so it makes sense that so much of what we're offered on SP (teams, points, motivators, blogs) is really about building community and boosting EQ.
Thanks, SP and thanks Judith S. Beck. Looks like I've been making up for lost time. Better late than never I suppose!!
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