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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sabotage! Not as simple as ABC

This week I've been thinking about sabotage. As in, when you set yourself a health goal, but something prevents you from accomplishing it. I have noticed in dealing with clients & patients, that I can usually teach them more if I listen more than I talk. SO, I asked some friends to share with me their ideas about dealing with sabotage. Indeed, I learned a few things! Below is a compilation of their input & some professional tips, as well as some take home points.

A useful concept from the field of health behavior, is "ABC's" - Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence. A classic example here:

  • (A) You had a bad day at work.
  • (B) You came home & ate too many cookies.
  • (C) You feel really bad about it.
This cycle can repeat itself. As in, you feel like a jerk & eat more cookies to feel better ... and so on. The key to stopping the cycle? Find the antecedent. Most people tend to focus on the behavior, which comes down to "will power" and blame themselves for not having enough!
It is better to focus on the antecedents, because they tend to be easier to control. In the example above, how do ensure you're always going to have a good day at work? I can't!
There are many possible hidden antecedents here. Access to "too many cookies" is the simplest to control. Now comes the part where you have to know yourself. My friends seemed to fall into two basic groups.
  • Avoid - Some people find that if there are cookies, they won't stop until they've eaten them all. So, if their goal is to eat fewer cookies, they find the solution to be: "Don't have cookies anywhere in the house." Some may be able to have cookies in the house but "not even get started on them!
  • Portion control - Some people (myself included) find that if they can have a small (or at least reasonable) serving of cookies, that they're satisfied. 
    • My personal solution is to put a few cookies on a plate and take it far away from where the container is. I also sometimes use the individually wrapped packs & take one far away from the box.
  • An additional possibility - maybe you ate the cookies because you were starving after a long day, and nothing was easy to cook for a real dinner? In that case, have some easy dinners on hand!
It is also possible to change the consequence. Huh? The fancy name for this is "cognitive behavior therapy." Super-simplification of a very complex & most excellent therapy: when you have a bad thought, you tell yourself another thought until the better thought becomes your first thought. Here are two suggestions:
  • Don't moralize: One of my friends suggested that it was actually the moralizing of food in general that could lead people to choose the foods they're trying to avoid.
  • Don't generalize: Even if you continue to moralize food, one cookie binge does not make you a bad eater (and certainly not a bad person!). Record keeping might come in handy. If you can look bad and see that you've kept your goal for a few days or weeks running, it's easier to accept your misstep and get back to the drawing board.
Either cognitive change hinges on planning ahead. They also recognize that all foods can fit. In other words, everything in moderation. To me, moderation is the magic word, for health & really just for life. 
BTW - for me, it's frozen yogurt, not cookies. It used to go in a latte cup (aka bowl); now it goes in a little coffee cup. 
If you have sabotage in your life not answered here, please comment & I'll get back to you.
Happy Eating!

1 comment:

  1. Love the new background! Adam SO sabotages my healthy eating. He'll whip out snacks at 9pm. I blame him on my 5 extra pounds :)