Controlling Psycho-Sociological Hunger Psycho-Sociological Factors that Effect Eating Behavior _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________
As we have already mentioned, your eating behavior is multi-determined. You don’t eat just because the glucose running through your veins is a quart low or your swallow counter hasn’t been utilized for the past hour or so. It’s not exactly a big secret that our biological system interacts with our intra-psychic and social systems to develop our behavior. Also as aforementioned, it should be understood that in order to gain a reasonable control of our behavior, we couldn’t disregard any of the aforementioned systems. Eating behavior is no different. If you want to lose weight, you must pay attention not only to your body chemistry, but also to your psychological make up and social environment. Being sports psychologist and physiologist with an understanding of human behavior, we were actually shocked that more dietary experts did not take into account the fact that eating behavior is influenced by an individual’s social and psychological makeup. Of course, when you look at the fact that only 2 out of every 100 people who go on a diet maintain weight loss, you can see that the experts, and we used that word loosely, are doing something wrong. We can only assume that they are not giving enough credit to the social and psychological aspects of eating. Let’s take a look.
Studies on the Psychosociological Factors that Effect Eating Behavior _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
In order to get a clearer idea as to the difference between the eating behavior of overweight and normal weight people, we decided to do a series of experimental studies. Actually, a number of the studies were simple replications of studies that have already been done. The reason we decided to duplicate the already existing studies was that we wanted to get a first hand view of some of the eating behaviors of overweight people versus those of normal weight people. We also wanted to clarify in our own mind that the research literature was indeed accurate. Anywho, our subjects for the experiment were 20 obese people and 20 normal weight people. The obese people were individuals who had twenty percent or more body fat than an average individual of the same height, sex and age. None of these subjects were aware that their eating behavior was being monitored. See how sneaky we can be? During the first day of the experiment, two banquet rooms were set up. The normal weight people used one banquet room, and the obese people used the other banquet room. The subjects were then taken into their respective banquet rooms for what they assumed would be their noon meal. On the plate of each subject was a large but equal amount of food. Hidden cameras filmed both groups while they ate their food. What we discovered was very interesting. The normal weight people ate until they were full and then stopped, leaving a considerable amount of food on the table. The obese people, however, ate everything on their plates. The following day this procedure was again repeated, except that this time even more food was put on the plates of the subjects in both banquet rooms. Once again, the normal weight people ate just enough to be satisfied and stopped. Again, the obese people ate everything. This procedure was repeated for ten days. On the tenth day there was so much food on the plates that we honestly believed it was physically impossible for them to eat it all. Even the caterers said, “There is no way they can eat all of that food.”
Well, we were grossly mistaken. Incredibly, the obese people ate everything that was put on the table…forks, plates, napkins…they ate damn near everything. It wasn’t a pretty sight. As in the previous nine days, the normal weight people ate just enough to satisfy their appetite and then stopped eating. Of course, the conclusion that was drawn from the study was that obese people tend to be plate cleaners. They ate everything that was put before them, whether they had a physical need for it or not. When given a larger portion of food, they continued to eat it all. Normal weight people are distinctly different in this respect; they tend to eat as much food as necessary to satisfy their appetite. If they are given more than enough food, they will refuse it. If they are given less food than necessary to satiate they hunger, they will ask for more. From these findings, it can be assumed that obese individuals are guided more by external cues than by their physiological hunger. On the other hand, normal weight people tend to listen more to what their body tells them. Interestingly, however, a few days later we found out that if the obese individuals were given a small portion of food, they, of course, would eat it all, but would seldom ask for more food. Normal weight people were distinctly different in this respect; they tended to eat as much food as necessary to satiate their hunger. If there weren’t enough food, they would ask for more. If they were given more food than they need to satiate their hunger, they would refuse it. If they were given less than enough food, they would ask for more. From these findings, it can be assumed that obese people are guided more by external cues than by their physiological hunger. On the other hand, normal weight people tend to listen more to what their body tells them.
Other Studies _______________________________________________
In a similar series of studies that we conducted, it was found that obese people are more influenced by the taste of food than are normal weight people. When we fed obese people foods like ice cream, cakes, donuts and all those other things that make America great, they ate large quantities of these foods. However, when we gave them foods that were bland, they limited their intake to almost nothing. Once again, the behavior of normal weight people was distinctly different. Taste didn’t seem to make much difference to them. They usually ate just enough to satisfy their hunger, no matter if the food tasted fantastic or bland. In fact, on one occasion we gave them food that basically tasted like cardboard. No problem, they ate it anyway and the amount they ate was the same as when we feed them the delicious tasting food. When we feed the obese people the cardboard junk, they ate a lot less food than the normal weight people. Heck! They hardly ate any of it. It seems that normal people eat what they need despite what the food tasted like. On the other hand, obese people seem to be highly influenced by the palatability of food. Believe it or not, one of the studies we conducted was a ∞ WELLNESS FOR LIFE ∞ replication of an animal study. Now, __________________________________________________________________ we realize that people aren’t animals (at least most people aren’t) and that Do Sauna Wraps Reduce Body Fat? it’s not fair to generalize from an animal to a human being. However, No. In this method, the body, or part of the body, is wrapped with in some cases, human beings respond bandages that have been treated with a secret “elixir.” Once wrapped, the to social stimulation in much the individual is put in a sauna for 15 to 20 minutes. Supposedly, the fat is drawn from the body by the solution on the wraps and the heat emitted by the sauna. same manner as animals. Actually, As with the sauna, weight loss is really due to dehydration rather than a loss of when we conducted the study, we fat. This method can also be dangerous because the wraps can restrict the were banking on that very fact. What body’s compensatory mechanisms for reducing excess heat. happened was that we had read a study in James McConnell’s book
Understanding Human Behavior, which revealed that hens would eat significantly more food when they ate in the company of other hens or when they observed other hens eating. We searched the literature to find similar studies that were conducted with human beings, but we came up empty handed. Consequently, we conducted our own experiment. Our subjects for the experiment were 23 obese people and 17 normal weight people. As with the other studies we conducted, none of the subjects in the study knew that their eating behavior was being monitored. During the first day of the experiment, two banquet rooms were set up. One banquet room was for normal weight people, while the other one was for the obese people. Once we had everyone situated we supplied the subjects with an unlimited amount of food to eat. In a word, we treated them to a smorgasbord that Golden Corral would have envied. A real cattle trough event with no holds borrowed. WOW! It was a scary sight in the obese ballroom. True to form, the normal weight people ate just enough to be satiated and then stopped eating. Also, true to form, the heavy people ate their typical mass quantities. After the heavy subjects had eaten all the food they wanted and were apparently finished eating, we went to each one of them and asked if they had enough to eat or if they wanted more. We got answers like, “I feel like I just ate a horse,” or “I’m stuffed as a pig, I couldn’t take another bite.” Heck! They probably felt that way because they just about did eat a horse. Trust us on this one…no one could get a pig to eat that much. Anywho, when the subjects said they were finished eating we had four pseudo-subjects enter the banquet room and start eating while the experimental subjects watched. Surprisingly, almost immediately, the obese subjects started eating again, even though they had just said they were satiated and that they could not possible eat another morsel. It was as if the obese subjects were afraid that the pseudo-subjects would get more food than they did. Interestingly, the normal weight subjects also started eating again after watching the pseudo-subjects eating. We really didn’t expect that type of behavior from the normal weight people. It must be noted however, that the normal weight individuals ate significantly less food after they started eating again than did the obese subjects. We repeated this procedure five different times. On every occasion we obtained the same results. As soon as the pseudo-subjects entered the banquet room and started eating, the subjects in both groups started eating again. Also, in every instance, the normal weight subjects ate significantly less food than did the obese subjects. As with the hen experiment, this research again indicates that eating behavior can be influenced by external cues. It also accents the fact that people around us can affect our eating behavior. Once again it also shows that obese individuals are more influenced by external cues than they are by their internal feelings. One study that we did not carry out was conducted by Stanley Schachter, a Columbia psychologist. Schachter measured the effects of time perception on eating. He hypothesized that normal weight people would eat when they got hungry regardless of the time of day. He further hypothesized that since most of the research indicated that obese people did not listen to their internal bodily cues, their appetite would be affected by clock time. In brief, he believed that obese people’s eating behavior was somewhat controlled by the time of day. In order to test this hypothesis, Schachter kept both normal and obese subjects in an experimental setting in which they could not determine the time of day. After the subjects had performed a number of boring tasks for a fairly long period of time, Schachter told half of the subjects that it was a few minutes before dinner time and the other half of the subjects it was a few minutes after dinner time. He then offered both groups some tasty tidbits to munch on while they continued working on the boring tasks. As Schachter anticipated, the
normal subjects were not affected by the incorrect information about the time of the day. They ate about the same amount of food no matter what time of day they thought it was. The obese people, however, ate less food when they thought it was before dinner time and a lot more food when they thought it was after dinnertime. Once again, this seems to indicate that obese people are influenced more by external cues such as time, environment, taste, etc. than are normal weight people.
Discriminative Stimuli __________________________________________________________________
Actually, Schachter’s finding that eating behavior was affected by external cues was not that surprising. Just about any novice psychologist knows that there are various cues in our environment that can increase your desire to eat. Unfortunately, most diet experts apparently flunked Psychology 101 because they never address this important issue. These cues are called discriminative stimuli. When a response, whether it is eating, sleeping, smoking, or for that matter any other behavior, is reinforced only in the presence of a particular cue, you will eventually learn to emit that response only when those cues for reinforcement are present. For example, for many people, watching television is a discriminative stimulus for eating. As soon as they sit down to watch television, they have a desire to eat, even though they are not really hungry. Such a habit can be very difficult to break because the enjoyment of watching television reinforces eating. Obviously, there are more cues than just the television that can elicit the desire to eat. For some individuals, the time of day, the noon whistle, or the dinner bell is a cue to eat. The kitchen table, the refrigerator, the dining room table, the car, the bedroom, even the bathroom can become a discriminative stimuli for eating if eating is reinforced in the presence of these particular cues. We can throw in a personal experience in here. We don’t eat popcorn from one day to the next. However, as soon as we walk into a movie theater, we have to have popcorn because the movie theater has become a discriminative stimulus for eating popcorn. In other words, we have developed an association reflex between the movie theater and eating popcorn. Interestingly, some people even develop internal cues for eating. They will become hungry when they feel anxious, lonely, worried, depressed, fatigued, or sad. One possible treatment for overeating, then, would be to reduce the number of discriminative stimuli for eating. One way to do this is to make eating a pure experience. Don’t engage in any other activity that might inadvertently reinforce eating when you are eating. While eating, don’t watch TV, listen to music, read, think, or worry…just eat. By following this procedure, your eating will not be paired with other stimuli like the aforementioned. Actually, this is fairly easy to do because it does not require that you deprive yourself of food. If you want to eat something, go right ahead. The only restriction is that you don’t engage in any other activity at the same time. You might be interested to know that in a research study that we conducted at Albany State University, subjects ate significantly less food when they made eating a pure experience. Indeed, sixty three percent of the experimental subjects in the study lost weight simply by following this method. Note also, the discriminative stimuli for eating should not be a discriminative stimuli for any other activity. Actually, there is a principle in psychology know as Premach’s principle which states that as human beings we tend to engage in high probability activities. For instance, if you give an individual a choice between running or eating, most likely the individual will eat because it is a high probability activity. However, as Premach points out, you can use a high probability activity to reinforce a low probability activity. In a word, you could use eating to
reinforce running behavior. The important point here is that if you are given a choice between two activities, there is a good chance you will engage in the one that is more enjoyable. This has tremendous implications for dieting because many times eating is paired with other activities. Actually, one of the authors made this very mistake when he was in college. He would both eat and study at the kitchen table. Even though he engaged in these activities separately, the kitchen table soon became a discriminative stimulus for both eating and studying. Consequently, there were many times that he sat down at the kitchen table to study and ended up eating. This was particularly true when he really didn’t feel like studying, which was just about all the time. What he did to resolve the problem was to isolate the stimulus for eating from the stimulus for studying. In come to the point, the big dummy made eating a unique experience. He ate at the same place every time. In fact, he purposely ate in a secluded part of his house so that he would not pair his eating with any other activity. Moreover, he ate only when there was a red tablecloth on the table. It worked perfectly. When he came in contact with the stimulus, the red tablecloth, he immediately became hungry. Conversely, the fewer times that he came in contact with the tablecloth, the less he ate. Consequently, he learned to control his eating behavior by controlling the discriminative stimuli that triggered his eating.
Beware of Your Friends ___________________________________________________________________________
Here is something that may really surprise you; people who ∞ WELLNESS FOR LIFE ∞ experience difficulty losing weight __________________________________________________________________ have someone close to them who, either consciously or unconsciously, Are Vibrating Belts Capable of Breaking Down Fat? encourages them to eat. For example, parents tended to “force feed” their No. You cannot pound, punch, jiggle or vibrate fat away. The vibrating belt may help you to relax by massaging tight or tense muscles, but it children with the assumption that a cannot break down fat cells. There are no mechanical devices that are capable fat child is a healthy child. You may of destroying or removing fat cells except for those used in medical practices remember your mother cooking like such as surgery or liposuction (where a straw like nozzle is used to suck out fat she was going to feed the entire through a small incision). neighborhood and then, when you didn’t eat everything, she would try to make you feel guilty. You know the line, “There are people in China starving to death and you have all this food and you won’t eat it.” If you are anything like us, you would probably feel like saying, “Wrap that shit up and send it to them because I don’t want it.” Parents will also try to bribe you with food. Remember this one, “If you eat everything on your plate, I’ll give you a nice big piece of pie with ice cream on it for desert.” Like you are not all ready fat enough. What they are really doing is using food to reinforce eating more food. No wonder more then half the American population looks like the Pillsbury Doe Boy. Parents we can forgive, but the notion that a friend, or worse yet a husband, would force-feed a loved one never crossed our mind. It should have, but it didn’t. Anyway, when we did a review of the research literature we found that a behavioral psychologist named Richard B. Stuart had conducted a series of studies that were designed to investigate the effects of social behavioral influences on eating behavior. Stuart investigated the eating habits of overweight women who were complete failures at losing weight. After a number of months of investigation, Stuart hypothesized that the women’s husbands were partially responsible for their overeating. In order to test this hypothesis, Stuart had the couples tape record their conversations during meals. Although the husbands knew that their wives were on diets, they were four times more likely to offer their wives food than their wives were to offer them food. The wives were more likely to refuse food offered by their husbands than vice-versa. In a similar study, Stuart interviewed 55 husbands married to overweight women. Again, he found that a significant number of husbands encouraged their wives to overeat. Stuart’s data suggested that the husbands used their wives’ weight problems as a vantage point in their social and physical dealings with them. For instance, Stuart suggested that husbands who had lost sexual interest in their wives would rely on the woman’s overweight problem as an excuse for sexual inactivity. Other husbands, who feared their wives would be unfaithful if too attractive, encouraged their wives to eat to diminish the fear of losing them.
Along these same lines, it has been shown that friends who are overweight encourage each other to eat. It’s the old “'I'll have a bite if you have a bite” syndrome. This type of behavior is used to rationalize their problem of overeating. There is also evidence that thin people will encourage heavy people to overeat in order to maintain a social vantage point. This type of “oneups-man-ship” affords the thinner individual a feeling of superiority. For these reasons, it is imperative that an overweight individual be very aware of those around him who offer food. They must realize the necessity to be assertive even with those who are close to them. It all boils down to the ability to say “NO!” Avoid guilt trips brought on by such statements as: “What’s the matter, don’t you like my cooking?" or, “I made all this just for you.” Simply explain to these people that you are on a diet and that it is of paramount importance to your physical and mental well-being. If you find this difficult, it may be time for you to investigate assertive training technique.