The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘diet’

God’s Situational Effects

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 8, 2012

This is the fourth in our series of posts intended to help our readers with their New Year’s resolutions.  From USA Today, here is a brief description of research recently co-authored by Kristin Laurin and Situationist Contributors Aaron Kay and Gráinne Fitzsimons .  

God references slipped into tests decreased student’s belief that they controlled their own destiny, researchers report, but made them more resistant to junk food temptation.

In the current Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study, six experiments on engineering students, researchers led by Kristin Laurin of Canada’s University of Waterlooo reported that just mentioning the Supreme Being in tests affected student self-perceptions and self-control, regardless of their fundamental religious views.

In the first set of tests, the research team gave half the students word-game type-tasks, telling them the tests were indicators of future achievement. Half the tests included references to religion in the sentences read by the students, while the rest contained reference to merely pleasant things, such as the sun, instead.

The result? Religion references dropped student views significantly on how much they felt in control of their careers.

However, in the last three experiments the team slipped religious references into similar tasks tests, but then checked student ability to resist junk food and sweets.

The result? Religion references increased the student’s ability to resist temptation. Most remarkable, the effect seemed independent of the depth of the engineers’ piety.

Given how often religious references crop up in daily life, the study authors suggest that they may play a role in even the most godless person’s psychology, and call for more research to confirm their finding.

More.

(Citation: Laurin, K., Kay., A. C., & Fitzsimons, G. M. (in press). Divergent effects of activating thoughts of god on self-regulation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology – pdf available here.)

For more on the situation of eating, see Situationist contributors Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosfion’s law review article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in AmericaFor a listing of numerous Situaitonist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Life, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Want To Lose Weight?: Consider the Situational Values of Values

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 3, 2012

The outstanding Wray Herbert has a terrific piece on The Huffington Post about research done by Situationist Contributor, Geoffrey Cohen.

Dieting and weight control are really pretty simple. We gain weight and have trouble losing it because we eat too much and move too little. If we can switch that around, most of us should be able to maintain a sensible weight without resorting to unhealthy gimmicks.

But that’s just the biology of weight control. What about the psychology? Why do we habitually take in too many calories, even when we know those calories are a ticket to obesity and all sorts of chronic diseases?

There are two major reasons for unhealthy weight, according to experts. One is a simple lack of self-control. We live in a society where every day we confront an abundance of high-calorie foods. Not overeating in this environment requires extraordinary discipline. The second is an inability to cope with stress. Struggling with ordinary but constant life stresses can drain the cognitive energy needed for discipline, weakening our resolve. Stress-related eating packs on unhealthy calories, contributing to weight gain — and over time to obesity.

What if there were a simple psychological intervention that addressed both of these issues at once — bolstering self-control and buffering against everyday stress?

I know. It sounds like one more gimmick, too good to be true. Perhaps, but in a new study, two psychological scientists propose just such an intervention — along with some preliminary evidence to back it up. Christine Logel of the University of Waterloo, Ontario, and Geoffrey Cohen of Stanford University describe a brief and simple way to give people the tools for resisting temptation and coping with life’s pressures.

It’s called “values affirmation,” and it’s done with a simple writing exercise. The theory is that focusing on one’s core values triggers a cascade of psychological processes: It bolsters a sense of self-worth and personal integrity. It underscores our higher values rather than our impulses, and by reminding us what’s really important in life, it buffers against mundane stresses. Since stress saps our limited cognitive resources, such an affirmation frees up these resources for willpower and self-discipline.

At least that’s the theory, which Logel and Cohen tested in a simple experiment. They recruited a group of young women (apparently, women are more prone to stress-related overeating), recording their baseline weight and body mass index, or BMI. The women were representative of North American women in general. That is, nearly 60 percent were overweight or obese, the rest normal. Notably, all were dissatisfied with their current weight.

Then half of the women wrote an essay about their most cherished values — religious beliefs, relationships, whatever they considered most important to them. The remainder, the controls, wrote about something they did not prize particularly, and why it might be important to someone else. Importantly, none of the values in the exercise had to do with weight or health.

That’s it. That’s the entire intervention. Then the scientists waited for about 2.5 months, at which point they called all the volunteers back into the lab. They again measured their weight and BMI, and also their waistlines. They also gave the volunteers a test of working memory, which is one of the cognitive processes crucial to self-control. Reducing stress should theoretically boost working memory capacity, and consequently discipline.

The results, reported online in the journal Psychological Science, were clear and quite dramatic. The control subjects gained 2.76 pounds on average, and this gain boosted average BMI as well. Anyone who has ever struggled with weight knows that this is a huge weight gain in just 2.5 months. It’s the equivalent of more than 13 pounds in a year — for no particular reason. By contrast, those who had completed the values affirmation lost an average of 3.4 pounds — also huge — and trimmed their BMI in the process. Women in the values intervention also had smaller waistlines, independent of BMI. And these women also had better working memory, suggesting that it was indeed their enhanced cognitive function that bolstered their self control. Even the most seriously overweight women experienced these dramatic results after the brief writing exercise.

Losing even a few pounds and keeping them off can be maddeningly difficult. So how could one brief intervention like this have such long-term results? The scientists believe that people can get stuck in repeating cycles, in which failure to lose weight impairs psychological functioning, which in turn increases the risk of more failure. Even a quick and simple intervention has the power to disrupt this destructive cycle.

More.

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Image from Flickr.

Posted in Life, Positive Psychology, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

The Situation of Our Food – Part V

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 6, 2010

Michael Pollan (a professor of science and environmental journalism at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California) has a new, short book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. Pollan’s writing has been frequently featured on this blog because it is superb and because of his fascinating situationist perspective regarding our food “choices.”  Here is a blurb about the book from Pollan’s website.

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Eating doesn’t have to be so complicated. In this age of ever-more elaborate diets and conflicting health advice, Food Rules brings a welcome simplicity to our daily decisions about food. Written with the clarity, concision and wit that has become bestselling author Michael Pollan’s trademark, this indispensable handbook lays out a set of straightforward, memorable rules for eating wisely, one per page accompanied by a concise explanation. It’s an easy-to-use guide that draws from a variety of traditions, suggesting how different cultures through the ages have arrived at the same enduring wisdom about food. Whether at the supermarket or an all-you-can-eat buffet, this is the perfect guide for anyone who ever wondered, “What should I eat?”

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Here are a few excerprts from Jennifer Bain’s  telephone interview (for TheStar.com) of Michael Pollan about his new book.

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Q: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” is a powerful, memorable statement that was in In Defense of Food and now Food Rules and sums up your food philosophy. What effect has it had?

A: It has kind of entered the culture as a meme. I hear it all the time and see it on T-shirts. The idea was to make some very easy rules people would remember. The “mostly” (mostly plants) is controversial. It seems to annoy both carnivores and vegetarians.

Q: Now you’ve given us Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual with 64 digestible points/rules/personal policies. Why?

A: I did this because I was hearing from lots of medical professionals, doctors and parents that they would love to have something – a pamphlet, really – that pared things down to the essentials. I wanted to reduce the message and get it out to a lot of people who might not be ready or willing to read a whole book. I wanted to preach to beyond the choir. I spend a lot of time talking to upper-middle-class, affluent people, but talking to them about obesity and diabetes. I’m trying to reach a very broad audience. It’s meant to be user friendly, something where you can dive in anywhere and come back.

Q: You’ve nailed one of the biggest food problems with the term “edible foodlike substances.” Did you coin this phrase?

A: I think I did coin this phrase. I felt a big part of our problem is that we should eat “food” and a whole lot of things don’t deserve that designation. I felt I needed a counterpart to food to draw that distinction. I tried to be as value-neutral as I could.

Q: Rule 17: Eat food cooked by humans, not corporations. Does anybody want to cook anymore?

A: Yes and no. Many people feel they don’t have enough time to cook. Many people feel intimidated by cooking. Many do want to cook but are stymied by a lack or knowledge or equipment. I see inklings of a shift back to cooking, somewhat due to the economy. I think there are people rediscovering the kitchen right now. The more I look at this question, the collapse of cooking is a very big part of our problem all the way down to the farm.

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Q: Rule 46: Stop eating before you’re full and try to eat only to 67 to 80 per cent capacity. Easier said than done?

A: Once you start paying attention to it, it’s just about being mindful. Yeah, for most North Americans it is hard. We’ve been sort of taught by the culture to eat until you’re stuffed. The French say: “Je n’ai plus faim” – I have no more hunger. Ask yourself, before you take that bite, is my hunger gone?

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Q: Are you done with writing about food?

A: Um, no. I’m not. I have more to say. I want to write about cooking, and I want to learn how to cook better. I also have not written very much on the international food question – how you feed the world.

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Click on the following video to watch John Stewart’s (Daily Show, Monday 12/04/10) interview of Michael Pollan.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, go to “The Situation of our Food – Part I,” “The Situation of Our Food – Part II,”The Situation of Our Food – Part III,” and “The Situation of our Food – Part IV.”

Posted in Book, Food and Drug Law, Life, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Weight and Fitness on the Campaign Trail

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 28, 2008

Daniel Libit of Politico has an interesting piece on how the rigors and demands of the 2008 campaign trail led many McCain and Obama staffers, as well as the journalists who reported on them, down a road of poor diet and lack of exercise.  We excerpt the article below.

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This is life after the protracted adrenaline high that is the presidential campaign: no more bag calls at 6:30 a.m. (or earlier). No more sniffling for weeks straight before a check-up at the doctor. For reporters, no more eating at “the file center,” catching cat naps on the plane and working into the early morning hours.

A few days before the election, Time’s Karen Tumulty blogged about counting calories during a day on the Obama campaign plane:

“So what are we talking about?” Tumulty wrote. “Seven full meals plus multiple snacks? 50,000 calories? And the only real exercise I got all day was unloading my bag from the plane, our weird little ritual at the end of the day.”

Restoring one’s pre-election physique and/or triglyceride levels takes time.

“You have to remind yourself that a campaign is followed by a transition,” Tumulty says, “which is essentially the same amount of work with none of the travel.”

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“The problem with presidential campaigns is, win or lose, you’re a wreck afterward,” says Mark McKinnon, a former media consultant for McCain and, earlier, for President George W. Bush. “When your system hits the brakes after being on the campaign rocket sled going full tilt for a couple years, most people are a mess. I know I was. [It] just takes a couple months for your brain and body to readjust without the constant adrenaline rush.”

McKinnon says he’s taken diametric approaches to it: Once he biked around the South Island of New Zealand. The other time, he spent two weeks “passed out” on an island off the coast of Zanzibar.

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For the rest of the article, click here.  For other Situationist posts on food and drug issues, click here.

Posted in Food and Drug Law, Life | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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