Helping Habits for Obesity

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HABITS ARE HARD TO CHANGE. It is understandable when we see that habits are part of our automatic, quick decision making. As Kahneman points out in Thinking Fast and Slow, our decision making is divided into two parts of our brain. One is the quick, unconscious part which reacts to the environment. This is very important as it allows us to get through the day efficiently and and keeps us safe in general. If we see a snake, we automatically recoil; if we see good food we partake of it; we learn to evaluate our environment and react quickly without much difficulty in a timely manner. Habits are in these realm.  The other part of our decision making is slow. It considers all the options and decides the best course. For example, it can decide that the snake is harmless and will get out of our way, so we can continue our path.  The problem is this takes time and energy. So we save this thinking for important, ambiguous issues. Unfortunately, the usual activity of the slow part of decision making is to rationalize the quick decision. (We could eat that because we were really hungry and had been good all day.)  Haidt has described the two parts of decision making to be like a rider (slow thinking) on an elephant (quick thinking). The rider can control the elephant but it takes a lot of effort.

HABITS ARE QUICK THINKING.  We frequently react quickly by eating something off our diet or skipping exercise because the quick thinking part has made the easy decision. The slow part can evaluate that it was not in our best interest but it was probably okay in this situation. THE TRICK IS TO GET THE ELEPHANT LEANING THE RIGHT WAY when facing these decisions.

Imagery prior to having to face a specific decision is a way to influence the lean or tendency of the elephant. This has been studied in some situations and has been helpful.  One study was to get alcoholics who had detoxed to visually reject situations where they might be tempted to start drinking. Doing this was found that they were more likely to stay sober.

Here we have an ACTIVITY where you review pictures of good foods to accept and bad foods to reject; good activities to accept and bad activities to reject. You should go through the pictures accepting or rejecting (or neutral if there is something that you do not want to do or to avoid) probably daily for weeks or months.  It is training your elephant or quick thinking to lean towards avoiding thing you have decided to avoid and accept the ones you have decided with to do.

It will not be a panacea. It will only help your efforts to diet or exercise.  Obviously weight loss requires both activities to be successful and will still be difficult. However if you have an initial lean to do what you want rationally want to do, it will help.

DIRECTIONS: View each picture. If it is something you want to avoid, make a definite rejection of it. (I push away from the screen with my hands and say no.) If you would like to accept the food or activity in the picture, make a positive acceptance gesture (again , I pull it towards me and say yes.) If it is neutral, let if pass without reaction. (I cannot run because of a hip replacement so I do not react to the running picture. I eat a sausage biscuit once a week and can control it , I also let it go by in a neutral manner.) Do this routinely and continue it. (I need to do it nearly daily and if I stop I will lose the tendency (habit) I am trying to establish.

It is also useful to be a part of a group. There are many available. One that I have found useful is Take Off Pounds Sensibly (



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