Fitness coach John fowkes discusses the myths of self-control, stress and healthy lifestyle and explains why it is not so difficult and intimidating as many think.
It is always easier to knock something down than to roll it up the slope. Part of my job as personal coach is to tell people what they need to do to get in shape or maintain it: how and how often to train, what to eat, what morning and evening routines should be observed. But here’s the thing: it’s not what most people. Yes, it helps to know exactly how to optimize your diet and training, but the truth is, just eat less junk food and move more is enough to keep yourself in decent shape. It’s just that most people have a problem with that.
How to learn restraint if you have a bad habit
To keep fit, you need to stick with the program: not necessarily the best fitness program, just good enough, but to stick to it exactly. Fortunately, was held tens of thousands of studies on how to develop healthy habits, stick to your diet and keep the motivation to exercise. In this article I will share some evidence-based strategies to stick to a diet or exercise program, as well as examples of how I help my clients to apply them in practice.
Instead consider healthy habits as the punishment of Sisyphus, use these approaches to climbing the mountain easier and enjoyable.
It is believed that willpower is like a muscle: it gets stronger when you use it. It is actually much more complicated. There are different opinions about how much people can actually improve self-control. Meta-analysis confirmed what is already known by experienced “dietchiki”: to avoid harmful addictions — for example, eating junk food, is easier than to stop doing it when you’ve already started.
I watched it among my clients over and over again. In my experience, those who successfully stick to a diet usually claim that it is easier to completely eliminate certain foods from the menu or include them in specially planned receptions “forbidden” food, and not to try to eat everything in moderation.
One example is especially noteworthy. I had a client who ate fast food for lunch every weekday. And he wanted me to helped him to limit the consumption of two slices of pizza or a hamburger and refuse fries every day. But I convinced him to eat a salad for lunch most days, and pizza and burgers to leave only on Friday and Sunday. This one change was enough that he started to lose two pounds a week.
Do not resist temptation — avoid it
To say no to tempting bad habit may seem like a simple matter of self-control. But it turns out that people with high self-control do not always know how best to resist the temptation. They just feel it less.
A series of three studies in Germany showed that people who scored maximum points during the evaluation of the level of self-control, in fact, worse coped with the task, which tested their will power in several different ways. The researchers came to the conclusion that people with high levels of self-control not to better resist the temptation, and rarely tempted.
To avoid temptations, usually you want to change the environment or the way of everyday life. You can use simple methods, for example, just to keep the house junk food. But you need more in-depth look at where you are faced with temptations.
One of my clients tried to develop the habit of eating salads for lunch, but continued to order dessert after your salad. In her case, the correction of the situation was to go to lunch at a health food restaurant, where there was simply no desserts, which she liked.
In another case, my client could not stop drinking beer during meetings with friends. For him the solution was to become a voluntary “responsible” for hydrating after a session. Thus, he was forced not to drink, and his friends now instead of having to get him a drink, convinced him not to.
Treat willpower as an unlimited resource
Until recently, the leading theory about willpower or self-control was “ego depletion”. The depletion of the ego depicts willpower as a kind of stamina in a video game. It decreases when you use it, and is replenished when you rest (and eat & drink).
According to Roy Baumeister, the man behind this theory, “a program of laboratory research suggests that self-control depends on a limited resource akin to energy or strength. Acts of self-control and more generally choice and will Deplete the resource, thus breaking the ability to control himself. These effects appear after a seemingly minor stress, because the person is trying to save the remaining resources after any depletion. Rest and a positive impact help to restore resources”.
In one of the early experiments of Baumeister subjects who had to resist the urge to eat chocolate, worse subsequently solved the puzzle. The experiment caused the depletion of the ego using a different task type than the one that is used to measure self-control. The underlying assumption is that self-control is the capacity that is used for all types of tasks, that is, you use the same resource to resist eating junk food and to focus on the work.
The theory of Baumeister seems to have been supported by a large number of studies. But all of these studies use more or less the same methodology: the experimental group performs a complex task on depletion of self-control, and then performs yet another difficult task, which measured their self-control. The control group only performs the second task.
In this theory there is one big problem: she’s actually not confirmed. Several related studies of ego depletion has questioned the validity of this theory. From the abstract of the meta-analysis, 2015: “We find very little evidence that the effect of depletion is a real phenomenon, at least when it is estimated using methods most frequently used in the lab.”
In the article “All falls down” Daniel Engber summarized the issue with “ego-depletion”: a meta-analyses that support the theory, include only published studies, leading to bias. Meta-analyses that include unpublished studies show a slight influence or none at all. In one repeated survey, only 2 out of 24 groups performing the same experiment, found a significant positive result. In other words, once a theory became popular, the experiments that failed to confirm it, stopped publishing.
Various studies on ego depletion also use conflicting and sometimes illogical criteria for exhaustion, ego: one study suggested that ego depleted subjects will give more money to charity, while others believe that they will spend less time to help a stranger.
Finally, one study has shown that willpower is a limited resource, only if you believe that to be so. According to the study, students who viewed willpower as an unlimited resource, less procrastinatory and received higher grades than students who viewed willpower as a limited resource. However, this study does not prove that the power level will depend on their beliefs, but in practice you often can reach a good level in any case, copying the attitude of people who are already fine with him.
In short, research suggests that willpower is either not depleted, or depleted, not much. This does not mean that force will never ends — this means that power will not necessarily become weaker over time. The benefit can go just change your look at will power.
My friend last year working with a trainer. She told me a story about how she missed her workout because she felt too tired. Her coach quickly gave her a kick in the ass: “are you tired because You decided to be tired. It’s your choice”. And you know what? It worked. She started going to the gym, although felt if she tired or not. And found that once she made that decision and started to move, the fatigue is gone.
Use your motivation
Several groups of canadian researchers has recently conducted a series of experiments, saying that your ability to say “no” to temptations also depends on the origins of motivation. The authors found that people who are motivated by feeling that they “must” reach the goal, demonstrate a more active self-control, while people who “want” to achieve your goal, faced with fewer temptations, and therefore do not need such explicit manifestation of self-control.
- Goals that “must” be achieved, usually installed from the outside — for example, your doctor tells you that you must lose weight, or your spouse wants you to quit Smoking.
- Goals that you “want” to achieve, is what you feel inner motivation: you want to get in shape to fulfill her dream of climbing mount Everest, or you go to workout because you like how you feel after.
It seems that the old cliché that you just have to want something strongly enough, not too far from the truth.
Over time you can develop the motivation of “want,” changing your approach to goals. Tell yourself that you want to maintain healthy habits, not that you “need”, and eventually it will become true.
Use cognitive dissonance to create the internal motivation
You’ve probably heard about the problem of cognitive dissonance, but if not, here’s a quick summary: people trying to make their beliefs and actions are consistent with each other. We become uncomfortable when our beliefs and actions contradict each other. We try to reduce the stress of bringing them into compliance.
- The study largely confirmed the view that external motivators, such as financial rewards, in the long term less effective.
- Internal motivators — evaluation of the action itself, not for external rewards, is designed to help you stay better motivated in the long run.
One meta-analysis of studies of motivation (not all of them health-related) showed that tangible incentives can sometimes even slightly decrease intrinsic motivation, while verbal praise has a tendency to increase it.
Praise is good, but it has no tangible value. It can also reinforce the emerging identity of the one who receives it, as a person with a new habit. In other words, when someone praise for taking care of your health, it causes him to see himself healthy, so he was even more concerned about their health in the future: it motivates him to action, which is more in keeping with his new faith in itself as the “healthy person”.
Also it seems that if you remind someone about the investments they have already made in your health, it will help make people healthier using cognitive dissonance.
In one experiment, patients who previously had bariatric surgery, recalled major spending on it. Experimental group lost of 6.77 kg for 3 months, compared with 0.91 kg for the control group.
Conclusion: you can increase your motivation by reminding myself about the time, money and effort you have invested in your health. And internal motivation is stronger than external pressure.
One of my clients tried and tried to lose weight, but never saw myself healthy. I got her to do two things to change her self-image. First, I asked her to keep in shape somewhere in a prominent place in the living room. Secondly, I led her to create a photo album in which she leads a healthy lifestyle: running, raises the bar, makes food, buys vegetables and eating a healthy meal. Over time, she began to see herself healthy. Good eating habits and training is no longer perceived as tension and become its natural part.
To use praise as a strategy, try to find a fitness partner — ideally, a neighbor or loved one.
I coached a couple who wanted to lose weight together. Among other things, I taught them to praise each other for healthy behaviors. Pretty soon they began to enjoy exercise, cooking and eating healthy food — because of the reduction of cognitive dissonance, and because it has become for them a romantic occupation.
Reduction of cognitive dissonance is a method of reducing stress. In a sense it makes stress work for you instead of against you. You can also reduce negative stress, to change their habits.
Minimize the stress
Stress plays an important role in an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and sleep disturbance. Two recent studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of the training on dealing with stress in obese Greek women and black women. In Greek, the study noted that participants that have passed the classes on stress management, have become more restrained eating. American research has shown that learning stress management reduces levels of cortisol, the main stress hormone of the body.
A review of 14 studies on the benefits of meditation mindfulness for weight loss showed that it was effective for combating emotional overeating and abuse of alcohol. About patients who do not have problems with emotional overeating, the data on the advantage of this method for weight loss has been mixed.
Some of my clients noted that the reduction in stress levels helped them burn fat, build muscle, and most importantly, improve their subjective well-being. Some of them have learned to manage stress through such things as mindfulness meditation or the improvement of time management, others struggle with the sources of stress, working less, reducing spending to reduce financial stress, or spending less time with people who are insulting them.
Most people exercise less when stressed, but some — on the contrary. One big change that I use with many clients having problems with the fitness goals, helping them to learn how to use exercise to reduce stress.
If the stress is on the path of your habits to train, look for ways to make them relaxing (intrinsic motivation!). Listen to the music during a workout, read a magazine between exercises, or sit in the sauna at the end of class. Even the choice of occupation, which actually brings you pleasure, can have a big impact.
Instagram effect or why food porn is good
Young readers may be hard to believe, but there was a time when people are not photographed everything that we ate, and did not publish it on the Internet. I’m even sure that at that time was called food porn is real porn with participation of the food. But now some people can’t eat if there’s no camera, and such grandfather, I ask: do all these instagram, and snapcity attitude towards a healthy lifestyle? As it turns out, Yes.
A series of studies where we studied the effects of photographing food before its use showed that for a nice product photography of food increases the pleasure of food and improves the opinion about its taste. For healthy products, this effect was observed only when social norms clearly supported healthy eating.
Viewing food porn is nice, but, surprisingly, it’s not like if it makes people actually want to eat what is shown in the photo. In fact, the opposite is true: viewing pictures caused satiation, reducing the desire to use the products shown in the photos.
Based on the results of the study should be pictures of healthy food before you eat them, but to look better, rather, photos of forbidden foods — if you are looking for a specific recipe for its preparation.
One of my clients started keeping a journal of products and post pictures of most of their meals in Instagram. It’s hard to say whether this is due to the effect of Instagram or good old-fashioned accountability, but she lost 30 pounds in four months after years of failed attempts to lose weight… and gained the weight back.
Practice memorable enjoyment
Each of my client, who managed to improve your diet, learn to enjoy healthy food. Each.
So how can you learn to enjoy the diet?
If you remember what you were like when you did it, you most likely will do it again. It is therefore reasonable to assume that if you will manipulate memories, you will be able to change their behavior.
The study by Robinson and co-authors showed that remembered enjoyment of food can be increased, if you train subjects to “list” what they like, immediately after eating. Then a follow-up study showed that this increase “memorable fun” correlated with increasing amounts of the same food which was consumed by the participants, when it was proposed as part of the Breakfast buffet the next day.
Practical conclusions are clear and simple: after eating healthy food consider what you like. published econet.ru.