7 Psychological Traps People Face When Trying To Lose Weight
Recently, I spent my time watching families eat 24/7. I didn’t actually follow the families around and stalk them through the bushes (that would be weird) but I watched them thanks to a recent documentary series on the UK’s Channel 4 called “Secret Eaters”. The show is based on the premise of secretly following overweight families around and filming them 24/7. Through this surveillance they catch exactly how much and what the families eat. I took particular interest in the Castle family because they seem really friendly but also provide many glorious examples of how we fool ourselves into being fat. Here is the very episode that features the Castle family.
Whenever you talk to a group of friends about weight loss, one person will always say the same thing.
“Eat less and exercise more”.
Anyone that is fat will tell you that they have tried “eating less and exercising more” but it doesn’t seem to work or last a long time. They start out with loads of motivation but can’t maintain the willpower forever. They burn out and go back to their old ways.
That’s because we, as human beings, are profoundly influenced by our culture, environment and social peers. People usually discredit this theory but it’s no surprise that it may be true. Is it a coincidence that fat people tend to have fat pets? Weight loss is about psychology as well as education. The great things is that we can control these factors and create a support system to help us lose weight once and for all. We are going to use the Castle family as our example to demonstrate the psychological barriers to losing weight and becoming healthier.
1. Lack of Proper Knowledge
Although education is not the ultimate answer, it plays an important part(1). The first thing I noticed about the Castle family is the dinners that they eat. Even though the family considered what they were eating to be a healthy meal, they had mostly carbs on their dinner plate. They should have had more vegetables and meat on their plates and less starchy carbs (like rice, potatoes, noodles etc.). In one meal, rice made up the majority of the dish instead of meat and starchy vegetables. They also spent a lot of their time snacking on diet sodas, eating packets of high-carb chips and sitting down.
If this family switched to eating more protein, vegetables and drinking water instead of soda, they would start dropping excess fat very quickly. It’s really about choice. What you choose to eat has profound implications and choice is one of the few things you can control.
2. Not Tracking Food Intake
Sometimes a food diary can be really useful. You can use it to track exactly what you are eating but unfortunately it is only as useful as we make it. The Castle family were given food diaries before they were filmed for the show so they could track what they ate. However, the show revealed that they were not tracking everything. Basically, the family members were not being honest with themselves about what they ate. The secret cameras picked up all the secret snacking they were doing. These snacks included alcohol drinks, McDonalds food takeaways, biscuits and sandwiches. As this video demonstrates the mother also grazed while she was cooking the main dinner for the house (known as Chop and Pop).
A famous principle in business is “what gets tracked gets managed”. This is so true for weight loss! Keeping a food diary for a week will allow you get a better picture of where you are going wrong with your diet.
3. Mother’s Love
This is very common. In the Castle family, the mother cooked the meals and overfed her children. This is because of an innate fear that her kids should not be starved. An understandable concern, but one that compounds family fat gain when combined with poor food choices and not really understanding why we get fat in the first place.
In many families, the cook tries to overfeed people so no-one goes hungry. This is typically the mother and it is not intentional – it’s just instinct. In order to avoid doing this, you should simply plan meals in advance.
4. Candy Within Reach
We have already touched on this with regard to food diaries. Snacking is a killer. People are not actually aware of how much they snack. When a bowl of chips gets passed around, we tend grab a handful. When we work in an office, we tend to grab the candy that is sitting at our desk.
To prevent snacking, you must take control of the environment you are in. For instance in many studies, when there is candy on our desk and it’s in your eye-line, we are more likely to eat it. If it is in a white bowl, then we will eat less candy. If the bowl is just 6 metres away from us, we will eat even less. By making simple changes to our surroundings we eat less sweets(2).
If you are snacking at home, then simply stop bringing sweets into your house. This change alone will cut down your candy consumption drastically. The Castle family had too many sweets in the house and that was the main reason why they were snacking so much. Habit control is a hurdle that starts at the supermarket.
5. Impulse Buying
There is no doubt that there are social forces working against us. Supermarkets are designed very effectively to make you spend more. They have arrived at the perfect formula after years of testing. They put chocolate and chips near the checkout to up-sell and also change the music depending on what time of day you are in the store (fast music during busy times to encourage faster shopping, slow music during quiet periods to encourage a shopper to stay longer and buy more). And let’s not forget the beer that go together with diapers! Yes companies like WalMart test these things and know exactly what works. Other methods to make you spend more include(3):
- Lines on the Floor
In some stores you will notice a line on the floor that goes all around the store. Well this is there for a reason. The line acts on your subconscious and guides you around the store. It guides you through the most profitable sections and is smartly designed to make you spend that extra dollar.
- Moving Stock
Sometimes stores change their whole layout just so to confuse regular shoppers. This forces them to see more items and therefore spend more.
- Keeping Paired Items Apart
A lot of people simply walk into a shop expecting to buy common household items like bread and butter. Supermarkets purposely keep the butter as far away from the bread as possible so people are more likely to buy items they pass on the way from one item all the way to the other.
If you want to avoid impulse buying, you must make sure you have a shopping list before you shop. Also make sure you have a high-protein meal and are well hydrated before you shop. This will make you spend less money and pick up healthier food. Interestingly if you do your shopping online, you are 55% more likely to not fall victim to impulse buying. The Castles never made a shopping list and usually ended up buying excess junk food.
6. Bad Influence
The people you most closely associate with have a profound influence on you. People who have lost weight in the past always acknowledge social support whether it is a personal trainer, a gym buddy or even an online community, social support can be powerful. Social support makes people accountable to themselves and their peers.
It is important to associate with the right people who will push you further and not hold you back. This is the same in life as well as sports. When the standards of your friends are high, you have to push your standards higher to match them. The social support the Castle family provided was never going to encourage any of them to lose weight. When confronted about their obesity, they laughed at their problems. Laughing at their problems can be admirable but not taking them seriously will only keep them stuck in the fat trap.
Some people simply cannot believe they have terrible eating habits. They believe that if they try harder they will succeed even though that has failed them already. Denying you have a problem will not make it go away.