Being led astray

They say that misery loves company. And sometimes, so do over-eaters!

How many times have you been led astray by someone else? Perhaps they were about to tuck into a whole tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream, or maybe a packet of Hobnobs, and they persuaded you to join them.

They didn’t want to binge eat on their own, because – you know – it looks bad, and they’ll feel guilty about it. But if you can be persuaded into eating with them, then it’s somehow OK.

And depending upon how fragile you are feeling, it might only take only the smallest suggestion to break your resolve.

It must be an eternal struggle for those who are trying to do Slimming World healthy eating in a house full of people who are not. Temptation (and tempters) would be around every corner.

In a way it’s easier if everyone is doing Slimming World together, as you can encourage each other, and hold each other to account. You can also avoid having bad foods in the house at all. However, with two or more people who are over-eaters in the same house, there is the potential for one person falling off-plan to bring the rest with them.

Short-term vs long-term thinking for food addicts

Don’t they look amazing? I want them all!

Many decisions in life have short-term and long-term impacts upon us.

If I decide not to study for my exams tonight, then the short-term impact is that I have more time to relax or party, but the long-term impact is that I might fail my exams!

The same kind of short-term vs. long-term thinking often applies to weight loss as well. If I decide to eat a tray of donuts, then the short-term impact is that I feel great, but the long-term impact is that I gain weight which then impacts my health.

And so, most of the time we try to focus on the long-term goal in order to make better decisions. We prioritise the long-term weight loss over the short-term pleasure of the donuts. 

The nature of addiction

Unfortunately addicts (of whatever form – drugs, alcohol, gambling, or food) often have a distorted balance when it comes to short-term and long-term thinking. They find it harder to focus on the long-term goal, and end up giving in to short-term cravings.

An alcoholic knows that their drinking has an impact on their health, relationships, family, work, and quality of life – but the short-term release or euphoria they get from drinking overrides the long-term impacts.

It’s the same with people that have a food addiction. Ask any overweight or obese person, and they’ll tell you that they know that their overeating is bad for them, but the short-term pleasure they get from consuming the food or drink takes precedence.

I think that only by recognising and acknowledging that overeating is a food addiction can we hope to tackle the problem.

Education is not the answer

Educating people on healthy eating is not the way to tackle a food addiction. Just as educating alcoholics that being sober is good for them doesn’t stop them drinking.

I’ve known that fruit, vegetables, and lean meat are the road to a healthy diet for my full adult life, but it hasn’t stopped me eating my own body weight in chocolate and crisps!

I remember being in hospital a couple of years ago, and my consultant (having noticed my obese frame) had arrange for a dietitian to come and talk to me. But she wasn’t able to tell me anything I didn’t already know.

It wasn’t that I was eating loads of chocolate because I was ignorant of its effects on me. Like a smoker who knows that it’s bad for them, I know what healthy eating looks like, and I still don’t do it!

So what is the answer?

Well there are many things that can spark an addiction – and most of them stem from someone being unhappy about something in their past or current life. Their own private addiction is often their means of escape; their way to forget about their problems, even for just a few minutes.

And so, to me, the way to tackle this addiction cannot be just telling them to refrain from whatever they are addicted to. We need to get to the heart of the problems they are trying to drown out – and hopefully give them coping mechanisms to deal with those problems without resorting to bad short-term decisions.

I should probably point out that I’m not a psychologist, and I have no direct experience of treating or studying addiction. This is just my personal theory, based on my personal experience with food addiction. Your mileage may vary. But do feel free to comment on this post to let me know what you think.   

What is opportunity cost?

The term “Opportunity Cost” is something I remember from the Economics class at school.

The definition is somewhere along the lines of the loss of value or benefit of not doing something in order to achieve something else. An example of this in the world of economics is that if I decide to invest money to get a future return, then I miss out on being able to spend the money now. An example from the world of agriculture is that I forego getting a crop this year in order to let a field lie fallow and potentially increase my yield in future years.

The ‘opportunity’ is the future returns on the investment, and the ‘cost’ is not being able to spend now.

The concept is also sometimes summed up by the phrase “long term gain for short term pain”.

It can be applied quite easily to weight loss efforts, and it sometimes helps me maintain focus on what I’m trying to achieve. The opportunity cost that I have is to stop eating unhealthy foods that I might enjoy in the short term, in order to achieve my long-term goal of losing weight.

I won’t see the weight loss straight away, because it takes time to shift those pounds, so I won’t see a real-time correlation between my actions. Avoiding eating a doughnut now won’t instantly make me drop 3 pounds. I will only see those pounds go over the next couple of weeks.

And that’s why it can be so difficult to keep focused on the opportunity cost. Just ask any addict! They know that their addiction is bad for them, but they find it difficult to prioritise their long-term mental or physical health over the short-term hit of their addiction.

Many people (myself included) on a weight loss journey have an addiction – an addiction to food. They often find it difficult to avoid the short-term hit of the giant-sized piece of cheesecake in front over them over the long-term gain of a more healthy body.

So why am I talking about weight loss using an economic theory? Well, everyone has their own way of rationalising things – and this helps me. Your mileage may vary.