Behavior Modification 101: How to Beat Your Rationalizations at Their Own Game

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Out of all the creatures on this planet, only one has the ability to talk itself out of doing what it knows it needs to do. That would be you: homo sapiens.

Although this capacity shows up everywhere in human affairs, it is nowhere more extreme or self-defeating than when it is employed by your average dieter. Itís as if, when you go on a diet, something happens to your brain that makes you thoroughly incapable of recognizing even the most flagrant rationalization for what it is. Hereís a classic example, familiar to dieters everywhere:

Itís mid-afternoon, and youíve done well all day at sticking to your diet. But something has come up, and youíve broken into your secret candy stash for a quick dose of chocolate, your favorite comfort food. Next thing you know, youíre telling yourself: ďWell, Iíve already blown my diet for today, so I might as well finish off that candy and start over tomorrow.Ē Then, itís off to the local fast food joint for dinner.

Obviously, this is a rationalization that makes no real sense. In fact, itís a pretty flagrant rationalization. You're not merely allowing yourself to overdo it a little with the chocolate, youíre giving yourself permission to make things much worse. Once things have gotten to this stage, thereís very little chance that simple rationality will assert itself and persuade you to get back on plan before serious damage is done. That bus has already pulled out.

So, whatís a person to do when this happens? Simple. You have to fight fire with fire.

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 trickier to do when the behavior you want to stop is a mental behavior, like rationalizing your way into doing something dumb, but sometimes using a little imagination and a powerful visual image can do the trick. The first step, though, is to identify the real problem.

In our example, the real problem is not that youíre using a rationalization. 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 itself to some kind of undersirable experience or image, so that your brain will be eager 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 creating a healthy lifestyleĖbrain damage is rarely healthy. This is where you need to use a little imagination to get the job done. Instead of fighting the urge to keep eating, 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 eat continuously, without stopping, and see how that makes you feel. Is that really what you want for yourself? What would the world look like if everyone did that?

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:

Wearable Feedbags

Whether this particular image works for you, or you need to create one of your own, you get the idea. Find some image or thought that makes you feel uncomfortable, and bring it to mind whenever you have that urge to keep eating more than you need. It wonít be long until your brain decides itís not worth it to play this game anymore.

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What a hoot!!!! I love a visual reminder for those times when I am tempted to go out of control....this will definitely help me....thanks Dean!!!
froggie Report
That is a really good idea. I like the idea one person came up with about thinking of it all as poison. I think that would be better than the video that is used. Actually, to be totally honest....I laughed my ass off when I watched that video. It was hilarious! So, can't really use that because I will just be laughing while I am eatting...LOL. But, all in all it is a very good idea that I will have to try. Thanks SP! Report
When I am tempted to eat something that I know is bad for me I visualize myself on the scale and the numbers going up which never feels good and is not the least bit appealing. I think about how I feel when the numbers go up rather than down and how negative it makes me feel. Then I tell myself I don't want to feel that way and therefore avoid the "bad food." It works almost every time! Report
mind over matter, its what i have done and have gotten friends involved with the same imagery. i invision "poison" corseing thru my veins when i think of eating something like chocolate, or a moolatte from the DQ. or donuts that someone brought to work. its all poison in my head and i just walk away from it. cause ive worked to hard and to long to let junk food set me back. smiles all-have a good day. Report
I think i'll just use a negative feeling i was not able to see the video i'm gonna check you tube for it i have a very vivid imagination so i will be able to think something up,preferably really gross.
Jessica Report
I'm certainly guilty of doing that sometimes (sabotaging my diet, not eating out of!). It's almost like I get in a "mode" and can't stop myself. Connecting my bad eating habits to something undesirable is good advice. If I think about myself being in a room full of people while I'm eating that way, I think it will help to thwart my evil plans (haha). Thanks, SP--once again! :o) Report
now all i have to do is REMEMBER the feed bag idea when I need it!! Great video! Report
that was ugly and I don't think I want to try that Yuck! Report
Great idea. I need to try it. Report
This method works for a lot of people, but I prefer a positive image and alternatives. I am as kind as possible to myself while maintaining discipline. If you can't be nice to yourself your mind will revolt and sabotage all your hard work. If you have to have chocolate or salt or fat, make a conscious effort to allow yourself the least calorie expensive and most nutritious choice possible. And love yourself for the smart choices you make every day. Eventually it will just be second nature to think this way. Report
LOL! this IS disgusting :-) and the perfect image to modify my behavior when I'm thinking how yummy some fast food might taste - NOT! Report
I can make all kinds of excuses and justify eating way to many things. In the long run...the ball (or pounds) is in my court and I am the one who is sabotaging my own plan. Gotta quit doing that. I have come to far to go back there. Good luck, Y'all. Report
I don't rationalize QUITE like that...I'm the type that says, "This [fill in the blank] won't hurt's not THAT many calories...I can always workout a little extra." There's nothing wrong with that every once in a while, but several times a day? Who am I kidding? Report
It was interesting Report
You hit the nail on the head. The very thought of starting another diet sent me to the Red Vines aisle. (You mean the box of Red Vine's isn't a single serving?) You get the picture. Committing to a healthy lifestyle instead of going on another diet has made the difference for me. Report
Wow! Could fast food get any MORE disgusting?

I'm pretty sure the video is a hoax, but still a good reminder to us all. Thanks! Report
Thank you for that. I think that it will definitely keep me from eating when I shouldn't, if I think about that video. Thanks again. Surely made me sick to my stomach when I watched it, I had just finished eating dinner. Report
I thought the video was great. We DO need to laugh at ourselves sometimes. Yes it was disgusting, but when you get down to it that may be what it takes to "embed" the message in our brain when we are rationalizing. Thanks for making me look at things from a different perspective. Report
Thanks for the article. it is amazing how ilogicolay we rationalize. One bite first and then give us the permit to clean up the fridge,!!?? Well I start tomorrow.....!!!

I liked the video, ......has lots of messeges! Report
I agree that it may be one way of stopping a binge or bad behavior. However, one of the things I like about Spark is the emphasis on positives. Maybe we should envision ourselves what we will be like without putting on the feedbag. I've beat myself up enough in the past about what I eat and drink without adding more guilt to it. Report
I think it's reprogramming our thinking that we need to do, and coming up with a plan. Last week I was craving chocolate like crazy, so instead of eating a hershey's bar I bought a chocolate health bar high in protein, that way I got my chocolate and I healthy snack that lasted a bit.

Also, tell yourself something enough, eventually you'll believe it. If you work hard you can reprogam yourself into thinking, It's okay to mess up, it's not the end of the world, so get back on track immediately and actually get right back on track. We don't have to believe every random thought we have so we have to consciously think about these things and talk back to such negative and self defeating thoughts. Report
I understand that some people may need a visual like this to make them stop eating a whole bag of candy and start on an eating binge; however, I reject the author's inherent assumption that the candy is "bad" and shouldn't be eaten at all. One serving of candy is justifiable in a lifestyle change. It is that type of mentality that needs to be promoted. Report
Of course it's extreme. That's the point. As the article says, we become incapable of recognizing flagrant rationalizations- I know I've done it over and over. If a bit of behavior modification snaps me out of that trance, I'm all for it. Seems to make more sense than continuing to go with something that doesn't have an encouraging record of success, IMO. Report
Fantastic idea, when does it come to Australia - just kidding. The video gives a great image of the madness of the rationalisation talked about. What a positive way of dealing with a bit of a dietary stumble - just remember the video and laugh. Report
I saw something one time that is similar to this...but not quite as gross. You take a large clear plastic shoping bag with you, and everything you eat goes in the bag. Let's say you go to Mcdonald's and get a Big Mac Meal with a coke. You'd order one, and in the bag you put the other. Including the coke. This gives you a visual of exactly how much you're eating, and exactly WHAT you're putting into your body. Report
Seems a little extreme. I feel like once you've made the commitment to lose weight or be healthy all you should have to say to yourself is, "Is this craving worth sacrificing my hard work and goals? Do I want this candy more than I want to achieve my goal?" The answer will surely be "No". Once you really think about how you feel when you are good to yourself VS how you feel when after you're bad to yourself, you pretty much know what you need to do and do it. Report
That video was disgusting, not funny at all. YUCK! YUCK! I got nauseated just looking at the video. Report
It's a hilarious video & good social commentary. I remember when one friend went through a stop-smoking program years ago; for some weeks he accumulated all his cigarette butts in a big jar, & at a certain point he filled the jar with water. Every time he felt the urge to smoke, he had to go, take the lid off the jar, & smell the fetid molding butts. It worked great! What's tricky in regard to eating, of course, is that this kind of self-reprogramming could feed into eating disorders. Food itself is not the enemy, overeating is. But our emotional reactions can easily become confused . . . Report
This is SO illing! Yuck! Behavior modification complete! Report
Now that is a video that speaks volumes and found myself feeling a little nauseated but then started laughing. It will definately stick in my mind.
Thank You! Report
That video is both hilarious and disgusting! It would probably work; no one could mindlessly binge with that image in their head. Yuck. Report
This is definitely something that I need to try :-) Report
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