“Sometimes strategic avoidance is the best policy!”
Ten (10) Pounds Per Decade
Are you on the perpetual weight-loss treadmill? Does your waistline fluctuate like a yo-yo? I bet dropping that pre-vacation five pounds feels impossible, right? Hang in there friend, you’re not alone!
Weight management is the single most difficult endeavour adults will face with age. It can feel like a never-ending battle. In fact, without a significant strategy, Americans put on an average of ten (10) pounds per decade – That equals one insidious pound per year!
“Pound Creep,” Madness
There are two forces encouraging, “pound creep“. First, our metabolism slows significantly after the age of 25. This is accelerated after the age of 40, especially for men. Second, adults experience a significant (3%-5% per decade) decrease in muscle mass after the age of 30. Muscle is our primary calorie burner. Another set-back!
From this, you could conclude that successful weight management as we age is virtually impossible. Regarding biology, the cards appear to be absolutely stacked against us. The discouraging high-effort to low-results ratio, leaves most deciding that it is not worth pushing back. Why bother? It is easier to accept age related weight gain, than to spend time fighting a battle you can never win.
Not so fast! The reality is, you do have an effect on the outcome, much more than you might think.
What Control Do We Have?
So, how much control over the genetic variance for weight do we have? Heritability studies suggest that genetics explains anywhere from 40%-70% of attributed weight. That means the remainder (60%-30%) rests in the choices we make. We cannot fight the entirety of biology, but we certainly can give it a punch!
Every athlete knows that you cannot out run, or exercise, a bad diet. Therefore, if you want to maintain or drop your body weight, diet is king.
So then, now that we know heritability is putting up a fight, what can we actually do? The answer is “Stimulus Control!”
Stimulus Control Explained
Stimulus control simply means that you alter your environment in such a way to avoid triggering the desire to consume unhealthy food items. You already have vast experience with desirable foods. When you see a product that you want, typically a food item high in tasteful but empty calories, dopamine floods the brain. In nature, our ancestors survived because of this organic trigger. Once you know something tastes good, your brain gets excited simply seeing the object – It becomes impossible to resist.
Stimulus control is a useful technique that helps you avoid causing the initial flood of dopamine, that often leads to you consuming the food you desire. Over time, your brain forgets the power of the trigger. Meanwhile, you start to consume and develop a taste for healthier foods, that soon begin to elicit the same powerful dopamine response. Thus, this technique is not simply about avoidance, it’s also about replacement.
Stimulus Control In Action – Fighting In Dangerous Territory
Imagine that you are entering a grocery story. Your goal is to leave the grocery story with healthy food items. All to often when you go shopping, you enter with the best intentions, but invariably leave with a bags full of food that does not support your diet plan.
Stimulus control can fix that. There are three steps you should follow when setting-up stimulus control for this scenario:
- Know Your Triggers: Stimulus control only works if you know your triggers, and the feelings bound to them. For instance, ice-cream might remind you of warm summer days as a child. You likely associate ice-cream with fun times spent with friends and family. Understand this connection, and the feeling you are attempting to reach with the stimulus (ice-cream). Remember that stimuli are easily generalized, meaning that it is not the ice-cream itself resulting in the warm feelings, it is the social connections associated with it.
- Know The Scene – Implement Avoidance: Before you walk into the grocery store, know the layout. It is a story you frequently visit. Thus, you are aware that ice-cream is in the frozen section on aisle 10. Now, under no circumstances should you go down aisle 10 – Completely avoid that area of the store.
- Spend Time In The Right Place: Now that you know what areas to avoid, spend time looking for food that supports your diet plan in other areas. This is a good time to get acquainted with the produce area.
Seem too simple? It is! The most challenging task reported by individuals using this technique, is understanding personal triggers and why they elicit such an emotional response.
However, it should also be acknowledged, especially early on, that you need support. It is strongly recommended that you bring someone with you shopping, someone who will provide you encouragement, and help you shop for items supporting your plan.
Dare To Be Average
There is no glory in perfection. It is important to avoid seeing food as either, “good,” or “bad.” Instead, embrace intuitive eating by viewing food choices as either supporting your weight management goal, vs. choices that do not. This gives you the freedom. It is okay to view food as a reward. When you attach an all-or-nothing label to a food item, you will eventually start to see yourself as, “bad,” when you consume, “bad,” items.
Don’t Forget to be Body Positive!
At Finding My Psych, we embrace the body positive movement, supported by intuitive eating. Want to learn more? We have lots to say on this issue! Check out our article, “8 Myths Piers Morgan is Promoting With Body Positive Hate Comments,” for a rundown of our recent insights on the issue.