Time to Abandon the Notion of Personal Choice in Dietary Counseling for Obesity?

Six weeks after the fact, I finally cracked open my Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Normally, I don’t find too much research that I find note-worthy, but a study entitled, “Time to Abandon the Notion of Personal Choice in Dietary Counseling for Obesity?”, caught my eye.

In short, the study suggests that many people account “insufficient willpower” to their failed weight loss attempts, even over aspects such as genetics which have been shown to predict 55-75% of BMI [1]. Further, the study looked at 3 behavioral processes: food reward, inhibitory control, and time discounting. Each of these behavior processes affect food choices in different ways.

Food reward, for example, looked into the motivation of individuals to consume palatable food. To battle this behavior, the study suggested removing palatable food cues from personal environments (i.e. home, office, etc.) in order to reduce overeating. Simply put, if its tastes good, and it’s there…you’re more likely to eat it. Furthermore, if there’s plenty there, you’ll continue to eat more because it tastes good; the taste itself is rewarding. Other tips to off-set food reward would be to shop with a grocery list, use online grocers, and planning restaurant menu selections in advance [1].

The second behavioral process, inhibitory control, supports restraint from eating. As weight loss is produced by a caloric deficit, this process can directly inhibit weight loss efforts and can be disrupted by stress. Avoiding situations which greatly challenge inhibitory control, such as buffets and restaurants, as well as stress management can be helpful in increasing inhibitory control [1].

The final behavioral process is time discounting which was described as the immediate pleasure from eating. In many individuals, the immediate pleasure from eating has a greater impact on their decision than the delayed benefits of weight loss or weight control. To help counter this process, short-term goal-setting is encouraged with no time frame being too small. I have often encouraged clients and patients to set hourly or meal-time goals. Preparing healthy meals and foods in advance increases the accessibility of food and healthier decisions [1].

If you’re thinking, “Nicole, you didn’t just tell me anything I already didn’t know”…I would believe you 100%. We know these things, and yet, we fall into the traps of these behavioral processes all…the…time. Why? Well, because food is wonderful and a part of all of our lives on a daily basis, multiple times a day. It’s impossible to always make the “best” decision (I use the term “best decision” lightly as I believe all foods fit into a balanced and healthy lifestyle).

What I do think is to gain from reading such articles is knowing the traps we fall into. There’s a reason I don’t walk into the grocery story without a grocery list – even if it’s for 3 items (besides the fact that my senile mind has trouble with remembering 3 items)! It’s because I love food and mysteriously, food items not on my list begin appearing in my cart, and then in my pantry. Kind of like…when Mr. Prevention comes to the store with me.

Anyways, the more you truly know about yourself – what makes you tick and why you make the choices you make – you will be able to more easily adjust these behavioral processes, and decisions, in order to produce the changes you want to see. Changing isn’t easy, but if you can identify the behavior and process, your chances of succeeding are all the higher.

[1]. Appelhans BM, Whited MC, Schneider KL, & Pagoto SL (2011). Time to abandon the notion of personal choice in dietary counseling for obesity? Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 111 (8), 1130-6 PMID: 21802557

And on that note…Lily and I are off to the farmer’s market for our usual Saturday morning routine 😀

Question: Which behavior process do you struggle with most? Food reward? Inhibitory control? Time discounting?

Happy weekend!

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3 Comments

  1. August 27, 2011 / 10:29 am

    Weight loss and maintenance seems so simple on paper, but it’s not simple at all… I agree that awareness and mindfulness are key to success, and it never hurts to remind ourselves of what works frequently. 🙂 I still struggle with inhibitory control at times. I used to overeat at night as a way to deal with a lot of stress in my life. I was able to reduce stress and my portions. At home, I am mindful of my portions by serving my food on small plates, bowls and ramekins (my “secret weapon” :)). I usually avoid buffets, but restaurants can still be tricky. I know I could have half the food packed for example, but I don’t always do that… Plus, I sometimes end up in a restaurant VERY hungry (for example on vacation when I don’t have my regular snacks, etc.), and it’s hard to stop when the food tastes good, and I’m very hungry…

  2. August 27, 2011 / 5:18 pm

    Can I just say all three? It’s like the perfect triangle. If I had to say one I would probably go with time discounting. Sometimes it just seems too daunting. If I think long term I’m sunk. I have to get through it meal by meal.

  3. August 27, 2011 / 9:35 pm

    How weird Nicole, I’m in the middle of writing a post about this study too!! Mine isn’t quite as detailed, because I actually read another article about the actual study, and am just using the study results to segue into my own tips for “weight management”.

    While the results are quite obvious, it’s a good reminder that weight loss and management truly is not easy, but it IS achievable. I think the third one is the one that inhibits weight loss the most. Everyone only thinks about the immediate reward, not the long-term reward, so creating short term goals is such a great tip.

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