In my last post, I described how "crossing domains" presents enormous problems for weight control and other behavior management programs and is a major contributor to their failure. The habituated domain is faster than - and largely insulated from - conscious regulation. In the short run, consciousness can win. But the long haul - the one that matters for behavior management - always goes to habits.
The best way to overcome the crossing-domains dilemma is to condition cues from one domain with cues from the other, so that the occurrence of Domain-A activates Domain-B. In other words, you form a new habit or extend and old one.
For example, you have a bite of the hot fudge sundae and a sip of the V-8, a bite of the hot fudge sundae and a sip of the V-8. You'll soon get to the point where every time you want a hot fudge sundae, you'll imagine how it tastes with the V-8, get disgusted, and won't want either of them.
Of course, the flaw in this strategy is then you'll want a butterscotch sundae. You'll substitute one impulse item of high sensory content for another, as long as core hurts, rather than health and well being, motivate eating.
Blocking Health and Well Being: A Sense of Failure and Inadequacy
If you believe it is hard to maintain healthy weight because you lack something, like discipline, will power, or just common sense, your weight management efforts will rise from shame of who you are, rather than value of your health and well being. When the shame becomes exhausting, distracting, confusing, or overwhelming, as it always does, the brain reverts to habits, which require far less mental energy. That means more overeating and attacks on food.
Your problem in reaching and maintaining desired weight is not due to personal failings. You have plenty of discipline - you have gone through so much trouble, time and time again, to lose weight. You certainly have will power or you wouldn't keep trying after each relapse. The problem lies not in you but in your programs.
No weight control program can succeed by dominating your consciousness with food and weight. A successful program must develop a conditioned response to regulate eating automatically, without having to "stop and think about it." In other words, it must help you build habits that cross domains.
Motivate with Acts of Kindness
Because eating behavior is mostly habituated, relapse is inevitable, particularly under stress. A key to maintaining weight-loss is to motivate yourself with acts of kindness, not with the punishment of guilt and shame when you relapse. Ask yourself, who are more likely to repeat mistakes, those who punish themselves or those who value themselves? Who is more likely to sustain desirable weight, the valued self or the devalued self?
Begin your commitment to core value eating by listing five "Acts of Kindness" that you will do for yourself when you have a temporary relapse of overeating or attacks on food. In making your list, think of what will help you eat from your core value next time.
Before you eat, think less about food and weight and more about creating value in your life, e.g., developing appreciation of basic humanity, meaning and purpose, love, spirituality, nature, creativity, community, and compassion. You'll be surprised at how you will eat less when food becomes less important in your deepest sens of self.
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