Course excerpt from Behavioral Strategies for Weight Loss
Now recognized as the most pressing health concern, weight gain in the United States impacts every part of our health – from increased rates of disease to greater incidence of mental health problems such as depression and addiction. In accordance, the weight loss industry has grown monumentally, branching into all areas of our lives. We now have weight pills, diets, low calorie foods, small quantity packaging, stimulant drinks and metabolic diet programs – just to name a few.
Yet the problem of not getting ourselves to do things, as behavioral economists know, is what underlies how we make decisions. Not just about weight loss, but about many things we should be doing – from saving money, to spending more time with our family, to contributing to charity. And understanding how we think about weight loss is at the core of how we actually go about making the daily decision to leave the donuts in the box.
When we want to change a behavior, what matters is not our intention to change, but the amount of self-control we have to actually execute the change. Our self-control – like any other muscle – can be strengthened. Let’s look at some ways we can do this:
- Use strategies that increase attention to the benefit of an activity throughout the duration of the activity. Running always looks better to us before we do it than when we are actually doing it. In order to be successful then, we are going to need to find ways to remind ourselves of the benefit of running while we are running. For example, we can use text reminders about the specific health benefits designed to be delivered during our run. We can also do this with statistics, reminding ourselves of other desirable outcomes – such as increased intelligence, emotional regulation, creativity, or optimism – linked to running. Or we can use in-run reminders delivered to us by our supporters. Like being cheered for along the course of a marathon, having a close friend or family member send us some virtual cheering might just make us want to run a few more miles.
- Reduce exposure to tempting options. It’s in our very nature to exaggerate the temptation costs of avoiding alluring options. If for no other reason than this, we should make every effort to avoid exposure to them. Having someone else order off the menu for us while we avoid looking at it, avoiding the grocery store and instead using a preset online shopping order can go a long way toward making sure the tasty muffins don’t end up in our shopping cart, or on our plate.
- Ensure that the long term goals are as certain as possible. As we know, the more uncertain our long term goals are, the more likely we will be to discount the risk in giving in to our impulses. And this effect is exaggerated when we depend highly on that long term goal. For this reason, whatever long term goals we choose, we should be certain we can get there.
- Incorporate mastery. We know that in order to continue doing something, we have to have an interest in it. And interest is highly linked to mastery. To incorporate mastery then, we should focus on learning goals, such as being able to shoot a free throw shot in proper form, learning the correct biomechanics of running, or learning how to ride a horse.
- Avoid performance goals. Performance goals, as we know, are linked to higher performance, but not continued involvement. If we want to change behavior, and cultivate continued involvement, we should make every effort to avoid performance goals.
- Minimize hot states. We know that when in hot states we are prone to errors in judgement and impulsive decisions. Minimizing hot states, and, at the very least, separating them from the self-control decisions we need to make, might not just help us steer clear of some nasty fights with our spouse, but also ensure that our waistlines don’t pay the price for them.
- Develop strategies to combat procrastination. Because chronic procrastination weakens executive function and lowers mood, we should make every effort to minimize it. We can do this through preset commitments. Giving $1000 to our neighbor to keep unless we follow through on our required tasks (thereby avoiding procrastination), quite likely will spur our motivation – and keep that $1000 in our pocket. On the other hand, we can also limit our exposure to more pleasurable (and deceptively distracting) options. Disconnecting, moving, or giving away the television, not surprisingly, might just help us get our work done – instead of watching the latest sitcoms.
- Find ways to replenish self-control. Self-control is a limited resource, and the more we use it without replenishing it, the less of it we have. In order to replenish self-control we have to allow ourselves areas of our lives we can have free choice. For example, if we have spent all day restricting our impulse to go on Facebook, yet we’d like to be able to convince ourselves to go to the gym after work, by first giving ourselves one half hour to do whatever – such as calling a friend, going on a walk, or taking a nap – we’d like, we are much more likely to make it to the gym.
- Minimize contact with self-control drains. Self-control is influenced by several factors, but one of the most insidious ways self-control can be derailed is through hanging out with the wrong people. When we see those around us giving in to impulses, suddenly we find a host of reasons why we should also. Not only do we not want to miss out on what we see someone else getting (it’s never fun to watch someone enjoy a delicious brownie right in front of us), but those justifications become that much easier (it’s always much easier to find reasons to do something someone else is already doing). So one of the best things we can do for our self-control is to protect it from the things (and people) that drain it. When we notice who around us doesn’t exhibit the level of self-control we desire and minimize our contact with them, suddenly the power to control impulses becomes that much easier.
Behavioral Strategies for Weight Loss is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE) course that exposes the many thought errors that confound the problem of weight loss and demonstrates how when we use behavioral strategies – known as commitment devices – we change the game of weight loss.
While obesity is arguable the largest health problem our nation faces today, it is not a problem that is exclusive to those who suffer weight gain. For therapists and counselors who work with those who wish to lose weight, there is ample information about diet and exercise; however, one very large problem remains. How do therapists get their clients to use this information? Packed with exercises therapists can use with their clients to increase self-control, resist impulses, improve decision making and harness accountability, this course will not just provide therapists with the tools they need to help their clients change the way they think about weight loss, but ultimately, the outcome they arrive at. Course #21-13 | 2016 | 31 pages | 15 posttest questions
CE Credit: 2 Hours
Learning Level: Intermediate