Obesity has become a serious health hazard in recent decades. A person who is more than 20% above ideal body weight runs the risk of: Heart disease, cancer and diabetes; damage to DNA, blood clots leading to strokes, and a diminished immune system. Moreover, the oxidation of fat, a bodily process, leads to a proliferation of harmful chemicals ("free radicals") entering the body that many scientists believe contributes to aging. Not a pretty picture. So what can you do if you love food?<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
It's useful to classify strategies for managing obesity as those things we do on the outside and those which occur on the inside.
The Outside Elements: On the outside, what's at issue is a person's ability to effectively manage the environment. Environmental conditions include cues, behaviors and consequences.
Cues are "stimuli" which let us know that some behavior will be followed by a consequence. Since cues greatly influence eating and weight gain, they need to be brought under control. The sight of a bakery is the occasion for entering and purchasing a banana cream pie, resulting in the sensations we call, "delicious" and "full"; and weight-gain. Cues can be verbal as well. The phrase, "come to dinner" suggests that sitting at a table will result in a meal.
Behaviors refer to the elaborate sequence of events which contribute to weight gain. Some of these events include: Purchasing, storing, cooking, eating food, and saving leftovers. Behaviors change largely as a result of Consequences.
Consequences may either be rewarding or punishing events. Rewards strengthen behavior and include: praise, money, gifts, dining out, the removal of unpleasantness such as a nagging spouse; and the taste, sight and smell of food. Punishment consists of: weight-gained, outgrown clothing, and social disapproval for "fatness."
When you were a child, do you recall your mother saying, "Clean your plate! How can you waste food? Think of those poor starving people in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Europe!" I can't tell you how many Europeans I saved from starvation by eating detestable canned peas! What has been learned since then, however, is that making the supreme sacrifice and scraping leftovers into the garbage is one successful technique for acquiring stimulus control over eating and the resultant weight gain. Stimulus control means narrowing the range of cues that lead to food. The object is not to eliminate eating and its enjoyment but to effectively manage it. You can do this by allowing cues to occur in the absence of food; and by associating food with cues that occur infrequently. To place table scraps in the garbage instead of your mouth is an example; to avoid entering an ice cream parlor and, instead, eating only in one place during unusual hours, is another. Generally, assigning "eating" to one place and doing nothing else at the time is useful, so that cues like TV, newspapers and family room conversation do not become the occasions for eating. Using the same reasoning, shop after meals--not before! Often, "hunger" or "the time of day” is a cue which lead to shopping for food and preparing dinner. Inevitably, these cues increase the likelihood of buying unnecessary foods. By making completion of a meal the cue for next week's shopping, you are changing the rules, thereby utilizing stimulus control, and will likely buy less.
Eating behaviors--purchasing, storing, cooking, eating, saving and even discussions about food--often occur as what we call, response chains. These are any sequence of events ending with swallowing food, where earlier members signal the occurrence of the ones which follow. Who would think that dressing in the morning would be fattening? But if dressing leads to a food discussion, then a trip to the supermarket, selecting, buying, cooking and eating a meal--it may be indirectly associated with weight gain. So how do you put on clothes and not weight? Make eating less likely by lengthening your response chain. As the number of "members" or events in the chain increase, the likelihood of the final event, eating, decreases. Make use of elaborate preparations-- foods which have to be defrosted or cooked in the oven; or which contain lengthy instructions. Keep foods out of entertainment areas. Inconvenience yourself! Walk to the food rather than sending a child-servant. Prepare one unit of food at a time. For example, toast one slice of bread, butter it, and return the loaf and butter to storage. Eat slowly and use utensils, placing them down between mouthfuls.
Exercise during the day by taking up a fun sport or leisure activity such as, tennis or dancing; doing some physical work at home, or parking the car at a distance from your destination. Every 3500 calories burned equals one pound of body fat lost! Additionally, there is burgeoning evidence that exercise discourages the accumulation of blood clots that in later years can cause fatal strokes and heart attacks.
Generally, behaviors are influenced most by immediate, short-term consequences. For example, praise, tangibles, intimacy, visual feedback in the form of charted weight-loss, new, smaller clothes and...even food! Make a "contract" in which something of value can be earned for specified reductions in weight or clothing size.