We all know about will power. That magical quality that solves all known ills. I've blogged before about motivation - or mojo. Psychologists think it works like a muscle. You can train it and strengthen it, but if pushed too hard and used too much it can run out of oomph. It also seems to be linked to blood sugar levels. That explains why my will power runs at a peep when I get home from work at the end of a long hard day. That's when I want my reward for getting through the day, that's when I need something to pick me up. On good days or when the wind allows, my reward might be a run, or in the summer we go for a walk. But on the bad days, especially the cold, dark, wet winter evenings, my attention turns to cake or a slice of toast (or maybe even a glass of wine!). When I was looking after Mum and going round to her after work each night, I was completely unable to stop myself eating a biscuit or two or nibbling that creme caramel. Things are a bit easier now that Mum is happily ensconced in the Abbey (a bit of heaven on earth), but I still have to watch the evenings - my guard is down, my will power low, I am at risk!
So I was intrigued to hear about research (scroll down a bit)
about how we might be given a helping hand when our willpower tank is running on empty. Psychologists in Aberdeen stuck signs in coffee shops giving calorie counts for different food choices. These are organised from the lowest calorie options on the left to the highest calorie ones on the right. Next to it is a little note saying that if you want to eat fewer calories then you might want to think about picking something from the left hand side. A little reminder, a helping hand just at the the right moment. No one's being an expert and telling you what to do, it's just a little helpful reminder - a nudge. The researchers picked left to right as apparently we have a small bias to things we see on our left so pay attention to the left (hmm I wonder if that works if your writing goes the other way...).
Anyway, sales of high calorie foods dropped and sales of about half (not all) of the low calorie foods increased. There was a shift from high calorie to low calorie options - a black coffee instead of that latte. And even more interestingly, when they asked customers what they thought, the ones who scored lowest on will power were more likely to change what they bought and many went for the lower calorie option. Hurray! A win for us, a win for researchers and a blow to obesity!
But never, ever underestimate the ability of us humans to find a way of doing what we're not supposed to. The researchers found that some people just swopped one high calorie option for another. Instead of having that latte, they had 3 chocolate bars - the same number of calories, the same unhealthy option. They were all women. They were probably calorie counting and this was their treat. I think that's fair enough. I've been there - 3 chocolate bars seems to me a much better treat than a latte - deal done. Though I'd like to think I'd have stopped at 2 chocolate bars ;-)
There's no doubt that our busy lives, worry and stress pull us in a whole load of directions so we don't know which way is up. A lot of the time we're on autopilot, making lists, remembering that we've forgot to buy or do, hoping none of the spinning plates have crashed to the floor. We're too distracted to notice we're reaching for that cake. All we know is we need something nice and we need it now because we've only got 10 minutes before we have to go and sort someone else out. There's a lot of reasons given for the rise in obesity but I do wonder if our busy lives, lack of time and our many responsibilities drain our will power even more than in the past. Plus we have more temptations and choices than ever before and it's all too easy to go for the comforting treat. I don't think we suddenly have more lazy people in the world; none of the overweight people I know could be ever be seen as lazy. Busy? Juggling like mad? Yes! Lazy? Definitely not.
I know my will power varies a lot and not always predictably. A run can fire me up making me feel strong and healthy and I really (really) don't want to eat chocolate. But the next run really deserves that cake! An extra pound on the scales can set me back on track with vigour or send me straight to the biscuit tin with depression. But that's just how we are - contrary, predictably unpredictable; human.
I guess it's like the fat photo on the fridge that's supposed to give our will power a boost and make us think twice about a naughty nibble. That never works for me, I tend to see it as a challenge! What works for me is information about how many calories, how much fat. Since losing the weight I make sure that I know what I'm taking in if I can and I wish more cafes and restaurants gave you that information. I can then choose whether to eat it or not and I keep reminding myself that every calorie still counts even now I've lost the weight. A little nudge, a little reminder that I matter and I have choices.
What do you use to give yourself a little nudge? what helps you make good choices? I'd love to know!
Hope all is going well with your journey and that you're feeling good and strong. Remember even when things get tough, keep believing that one day you will get there. That's the biggest thing you can do to make your dreams come true.