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Old 04-10-2009, 04:33 PM   #1
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I found the following article on Yahoo! news (Yahoo News article and thought it apropos for here.

Losing It: Why Self-Control Is Not Natural
LiveScience.com

Meredith F. Small

After dinner last night, I lost my usual self-control and ate half a box of cookies. No wonder. My self-control had been under pressure all day. I righteously refused a muffin at breakfast, didn't scream at my kid to get out the door although we were late, made a conscious decision not to run over a pedestrian crossing against the light, kept my fist from pounding on the table during a faculty meeting, and resisted the urge to throw an annoying student out of my office.

But by 7 p.m., my self-control mechanism was worn out, and down those cookies went.

The empty box would have been no surprise to Yale University psychologist Joshua Ackerman and colleagues who have discovered that self-control not only wears us down, even thinking about other people's self-control is too much to handle.

In the latest issue of the journal Psychological Science, the researchers taunted subjects with the story of a waiter who was surrounded by gourmet food but not allowed a taste. Some of the subjects were encouraged to go beyond polite listening and actually imagine this poor waiter, to have real empathy with his situation. And then everybody was shown pictures of expensive stuff. Those who had put themselves in the shoes of the waiter, had suffered all that self-control as he had, wanted that stuff, no matter the price.

In other words, just the thought of someone, anyone, depriving himself eventually makes greedy beasts of all of us.

Apparently, it's human nature to be out of control. Imagine our early ancestors roaming the savannah looking for food. They might bring down a gazelle, but that meat was probably not enough for some of the group. As soon as they wiped their mouths, those lacking self-control were probably off again on the hunt because they could not deny themselves anything.

Such an attitude was probably adaptive. It kept the group on the take, always looking, always wanting, always getting, and those who wanted more surely lived longer and passed on more genes that those who sat around the first gazelle and said, "We'll, I'm satisfied," not imagining they would be hungry again soon.

The need for self-control must have come much later, and in other spheres than food. Group living, for example, takes great self-control; it takes a lot to live with people day after day and not kill them, and so those more reflective humans who could keep their anger in check probably did well once humans settled into communities.

But that kind of self-control has become so painful in the modern world because there is so much to want, so much to tempt our restraint. We live in busy, complex communities surrounded by desirable goods and fun ideas, and so all day, every day, we hold back. And we see that most everyone else is holding back too. We are hit hard by both our own weary self-control as well as the exhausting empathy we apparently have for everyone else's self-control.

It really is too much. It makes perfect sense that we sometimes lose it and eat half, or even a whole, box of cookies in one sitting.
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Old 04-10-2009, 05:15 PM   #2
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I disagree with her premise.

I know a lot of people who don't eat a half a box of cookies because it's been a stressful day and they've been "denying" themselves.

If someone's habit is to use food in that way, then yeah, it will be the first impulse. But one can get out of that habit.

I also don't agree with her assertions about life on the Savannah. I think ancient people were a lot less desperate about food than the "caveman-hunter" view would make you think.

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Old 04-10-2009, 06:22 PM   #3
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I disagree as well. I used to break down and eat boxes of cookies all the time. I don't any more. Even last week, where I was exceptionally (oddly) hungry, I didn't eat a bigger portion than 4 crackers with peanut butter.

Depriving myself of healthy nutrients/calories in various other diets did cause me to binge. Depriving myself of a "muffin" while still eating a good number of healthy calories every day does not trigger the same out of control eating episodes I used to suffer from.

Sorry I can't seem to get my thoughts together coherently! Only have a short break at work.
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Old 04-10-2009, 06:53 PM   #4
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Another load of BS. What I got out of the article is it's okay to everything you want and just take what you want from what you see around you - so are we all supposed to be a bunch of obese, alcoholic thieves? When I eat healthy, I don't have any desire to turn to a box of cookies and scarf them down because I had a bad day. I look forward to a nice long bubble bath.
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Old 04-10-2009, 06:57 PM   #5
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Yes...I think that is the problem I have as well. "Oh, self control is MUCH TOO HARD" you can't be expected to not eat the cookies, eat the cookies! No one has self control or can be expected to have self control, don't be hard on yourself if you eat a box of cookies. As a weight loss maintainer - I call BS!

It's like the old chestnut about men and fidelity. "Oh men, they are genetically suited to spread their seed, they can't be faithful!"

We are animals yes, but I'd like to think we can be more than our instincts.
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Old 04-10-2009, 07:04 PM   #6
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Old 04-10-2009, 07:24 PM   #7
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See, I read this totally differently, but perhaps I am just feeling 'nice' today. I kinda read that this could help those people who feel as though they will NEVER have any self control. This tells them that it IS hard, and they needn't feel bad just because they are finding it hard. It doesn't mean that they don't have to HAVE self control, it just means that it isn't as easy as some people tell them. You know the ones... "You just have to eat less." The CONCEPT is easy, but the process is harder. This article explains (albeit perhaps not very well or accurately) that self control is HARD. So I look it as saying, "Forgive yourself if you are finding it difficult", but perhaps it should have been followed up with a little advice about how to help yourself in those times when it is hardest to find self control.

I have always said that I didn't just develop incredible self control after years of not appearing to have any. I lost weight because I was COMMITTED to the process. I never actually even thought about self control during that time, it is just that losing weight 'wasn't an option', it was something I just intended to do.

Sorry, it is early morning here and I may not be saying things how I actually would like, but I hope you get the generally idea.
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Old 04-10-2009, 07:25 PM   #8
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What I have heard before is that willpower is sort of like a muscle. It does get strained by repeated/extreme effort over a short period of time and can give out.

But like a muscle, if you exercise it, you will able to withstand more stress in the same period of time.

That model fits both the original poster's scenario and the followups (folks who have exercised their willpower muscles). The interesting thing about the original poster's article is that empathy for someone else uses up your own store of willpower. That's food for thought!
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Old 04-10-2009, 07:34 PM   #9
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Just wanted to add that a lot of psychological studies need to have better controls. The author didn't give enough details for one to determine whether it was a scientifically valid study or not. It seems as though the conclusion being drawn is that seeing deprivation in others makes one even more greedy. I don't believe that, either.

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Old 04-10-2009, 07:41 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JayEll View Post
It seems as though the conclusion being drawn is that seeing deprivation in others makes one even more greedy. I don't believe that, either.
That is the part I do agree with! When I used to deprive myself (and I mean SERIOUSLY deprive myself of needed food) I used to binge...in a way that made me feel completely out of control and hopeless to stop. At the time, I thought I was loser who lacked will power, now I believe I was a starving person pitting my will to lose weight against my body's powerful will to live. My "mental will power" lost out to my body's will to live, which now I know is as it should be (some people can defeat their body - to their detriment and our sorrow).

But regular "deprivation" in the context of skip that fatty muffin and eat some oatmeal instead? That I do NOT agree with. For myself, I try not to give in to the "oh it's just too hard so if I eat something off plan, just forget it, I was powerless to stop" mentality. Of course, I forgive myself - but I try to think about WHY it happened and how to prevent it from happening in the future. I never give myself the "oh, you just couldn't HELP IT" excuse. That is MY hand and MY mouth - no one else stuffs food in my mouth, I most definitely CAN help it. Maybe I need a better strategy, maybe I need to have a healthy snack on hand, maybe I need to eat more protein for breakfast, maybe I need to be firm saying "no" in social situations but I am in control of my actions in every situation. (just to reaffirm, I am talking about regular, everyday situations, not an occasion where I am really not getting enough to eat).
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Old 04-10-2009, 07:44 PM   #11
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Oh - good post Alinnell, really got me thinking
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Old 04-10-2009, 09:25 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JayEll
Just wanted to add that a lot of psychological studies need to have better controls. The author didn't give enough details for one to determine whether it was a scientifically valid study or not. It seems as though the conclusion being drawn is that seeing deprivation in others makes one even more greedy. I don't believe that, either.
Okay, well, since you all have raised issues of psychological research and validity, I feel like I need to respond. I have a Ph.D. in social psychology and teach research design courses on a regular basis, so I can weigh in here.

First, I agree with JayEll, but she is making 2 distinct points. Yes, many psychology studies need better controls, and yes, the author didn't give enough details. But just because the author of the Yahoo article didn't give enough info doesn't mean the study itself isn't valid -- just that the reporter didn't do a good job (a sadly regular occurance).


Quote:
In the latest issue of the journal Psychological Science, the researchers taunted subjects with the story of a waiter who was surrounded by gourmet food but not allowed a taste. Some of the subjects were encouraged to go beyond polite listening and actually imagine this poor waiter, to have real empathy with his situation. And then everybody was shown pictures of expensive stuff. Those who had put themselves in the shoes of the waiter, had suffered all that self-control as he had, wanted that stuff, no matter the price.

In other words, just the thought of someone, anyone, depriving himself eventually makes greedy beasts of all of us.
I can tell from the description that this was an experiment, but I cannot tell whether it possesses internal validity (that is, whether it was designed well enough to say that one variable causes another).

But I can tell that the reporter makes two significant errors, even if this experiment IS internally valid. First, the results of the study in no way mean that 'the thought of someone, anyone eventually makes greedy beasts of all of us."

First, just because the people reacted one way when asked to think about a waiter doesn't mean ANYONE would prompt that reaction.

Second, I doubt that everyone in that condition reacted that way. The difference was likely not due to chance, but it would be virtually impossible to have everyone react the same way.

But Alinell, thanks for posting it! Interesting discussion!
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Old 04-10-2009, 10:38 PM   #13
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I think it is an interesting perspective. We talk a lot on here about the "click" and the move to determination vs. the fleetingness of motivation. I'm the same person with the same strengths and weaknessed when I am living very healthy as when I am making choices that are detrimental to my health. Am I a strong-willed person with some times of weakness? Or am I a weak person with times of strength? I guess mainly I am human.

In nursing theory, there is a lot of discussion of the concept of resilience...how do people approach challenges and make it through to the other side....We all have coping strategies and for me, food is an unhealthy coping strategy. I too have had long days of being in control and on top of everything to have my self-control dissolve in front of food. The types of food influence my behavior, as does my level of tiredness, stress, hunger, and thirst. Sometimes I am stronger than those influences and sometimes I throw in the towel.

I feel like this whole thing is the ocean. Sometimes I am riding the swells, going up and down with them, in rhythm, without much struggle. And then there are times I am out of rhythm and the waves crash over my head, I kick my feet and struggle to keep my head above water, gasping for air and trying to fight to get back to where I rise when the water rises and float down when it floats down.

To me, this whole thing is such a process. I don't have all of the answers for myself. I know what works and what doesn't, but I don't know why I still make the choice for self-destructive behaviors. Maybe counseling would help. The support here most certainly does.
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Old 04-10-2009, 10:48 PM   #14
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Thanks Heather.Always good to have an expert on the board.
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Old 04-10-2009, 10:55 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by midwife View Post
I feel like this whole thing is the ocean. Sometimes I am riding the swells, going up and down with them, in rhythm, without much struggle. And then there are times I am out of rhythm and the waves crash over my head, I kick my feet and struggle to keep my head above water, gasping for air and trying to fight to get back to where I rise when the water rises and float down when it floats down.
Wow, this is not only a good analogy for the whole weight loss journey but for life in general. I'm going to try to remember this when times get tough..thank you!
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