5 December 2010,
 0

Having to losing weight is absolutely unnatural, so itˊs really no wonder that itˊs an uncomfortable process.

It is also true that our environment is so totally extraordinary, in terms of access to pleasurable food, that certain overeating help measures must be taken if we want to avoid the inevitable consequence of weight gain.

Our environment, paired with our primitive desire to eat food to avoid future famines, donˊt align as seamlessly as we may want.
Unless “seamless” is the new style of clothing you envision yourself wearing for the next 40 years, or if the idea of hiding in a slanket makes you feel itchy, the battle to maintain a healthy body weight is going to be a complex task.

When faced with famines, the fastest way to protect oneself would be to eat as quickly as possible, and eat as much as possible. I realize this is hardly profound, but in 21st century North America and Western Europe, hunger is far down on the list of issues plaguing our societies, but we are still shackled by the same biological systems that were around when Starbucks wasnˊt on every street corner.

A lot of people engage in what I would call “accidental overeating”, in essence eating either too much food, or eating an inappropriate times (“grazing” is a dieting fad that Iˊve never really understood, but weˊll get to that later). So, a critical question is.. what underlies our choice to overeat, and how can we gain better control over this??

Our choices with regard to eating have precious little to do with hunger, at least for the average dweller in Western Developed Nations. Absolutely, I am arguing that our choices to eat in the 21st Century are more closely contingent upon the environment in which we currently reside, and how we have learned to pair certain foods and sensations with certain experiences, a learning process which has been developed since very early childhood.

Imagine I commanded people to “unlearn” other kinds of behaviour — I know, letˊs “unlearn” reading or “unlearn” tying up our shoelaces. Both chains of behavior (reading and laces-tying) are almost automatic, ie. they happen without a lot of conscious effort. I would argue the same forces are at work when we are faced with the jumbo bag of mini doughnuts, except worse: I donˊt feel huge surges of pleasure reading whilst I do with every grain of sugar of the mini doughnut. Every single one of our sensory systems is primed for us to sense and obtain highly rewarding items: so, try as we might, unlearning the automatic act of wanting to eat those doughnuts or trying to ignore those doughnuts when they are right in front of us, is going to be about as easy as ignnoring the flagrint speling mistaykes mayd heer.

Critically, interfering with an automatic process causes us to focus our attention in a different way, and I would further argue this actually can be put to use in the context of controlling our appetite.

Distracting oneself from desired food, admittedly, an incredibly “unnatural” thing to do (by unnatural I mean, extremely difficult and awkward).

So, how do we “distract our attention”? Really, truly? Perusing some of the cognitive psychology journals, I recently encountered a strategy whereby authors clamored the benefits of tapping on oneˊs forehead 15 times, moving their index finger across their forehead, and staring into the palm of their hand before eating a group of mock “taste test” chocolate bars and crisps. When I asked my friends and family if they would try engaging in this overeating help habit before reaching for a Snickers, they looked at me as though I had landed on.. (wait for it!) Mars. Pun absolutely, totally intended. Terrible, terrible. I know.

Shockingly, the authors found statistical success in the lab. This is to say, 99.5% of their participants ate less palatable, tasty food, after doing the forehead tap. What is behind this force? My guess, is that the finger tapping treatment achieves an important goal: it distracts attention from the food, thereby giving the individual an addition 2-5 seconds to actually process the action of eating before they engage in it.

*!2-5 seconds to pause and find a genuine distraction from a food stimulus is absolutely critical, particularly if you are someone who has deeper overeating issues than merely polishing off a single chocolate bar.

If you suffer from overeating, remember the 5 second rule for overeating help: distract yourself from the desired object and focus your attention on something totally unrelated (like the palm of your hand!). Later on, perhaps revisit the idea that indeed, denying yourself some types of food is unnatural and uncomfortable, but so too is the very presence of so many items of food that are causing the havoc with your body and sense of self.

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