How to avoid wearing edible Christmas gifts on your hips

killer cookiesThe holiday season brings with it numerous opportunities to EAT. You eat more and are exposed to extra servings of “NICE THINGS” i.e. carbohydrate laden delicacies, as you attend year end functions.

A lot of those NICE THINGS, end up coming home as gifts, given by well meaning friends and colleagues, unfortunately, these “gifts” invariably end up on your hips.

So how do you deal with these marvellous culinary delights, that whisper “Eat me, eat me !”, every time you spy them.

Well, let’s not kid anyone, it is going to be tough, so does science offer any tools that can help you resist temptation ?

Brain likes instant rewards

The brain is hard wired for instant reward, so it typically prefers enjoying the cookie now, even though abstaining now, would be rather rewarding in the future.

In the moment the brain can’t do the maths.

The choice :

  • little reward now,
  • big reward later

Little reward NOW, will invariably win over the big reward LATER.

NOTE : This principle doesn’t just apply to food, it even applies to money, this is one of the reasons we struggle to SAVE.

Ignoring the cookie calls

The usual strategy of feigning deafness to the constant calls of those cookies, seldom works, because the brain has calculated the magnitude of the cookie reward and expects it shortly.

As far as it is concerned, that cookie is going to taste really NICE !

In fact, the longer you deprive the brain of its anticipated reward, the bigger the prize, the brain begins to exaggerate the positive effect. It adjusts the calculations to reflect that the cookies are not just going to be “really NICE” BUT “really really really NICE”.

It is around this time that most people succumb to the temptation. Of course, now you will not just have one or two cookies, but will eat the whole box, so as to access the enormous cookie PRIZE. Regret will quickly set in, as the brain realises the “reward” was not quite as rewarding as it had imagined, but the calories are now circulating in the system and….

Excess calories in, add up to excess baggage……..usually around the belly.

Beating the cookie calls

So, if you want to avoid pigging out on those cookies, you’ve got to obliterate the brain’s reward.

Cookies are always going to taste fabulous and bump up dopamine, the reward chemical, so obliterating the actual reward, is pretty close to impossible.

Should you choose to opt to obliterate the actual reward, you will need to annihilate the cookies, by tossing them in the trash can, literally or figuratively.

So success in overcoming culinary temptations, requires obliterating the PERCEIVED reward.

Awarding the booby PRIZE

Researchers from the University of Texas, exposed volunteers to a variety of temptations, their success or failure to withstand the temptation was carefully recorded and the thinking that drove the decision analyzed.

The researchers verified those who succeeded, consistently turned the tempting reward into a booby PRIZE.

They found

  • the cookie that was resisted was assigned a calorie count of 5000,
  • but the cookie that was munched only had 100 calories assigned to it.

The team coined a very technical term to describe this mental manoeuvring, they called it counteractive construal. Counteractive construal boils down to mentally manipulating the “facts”, in this case the calorie count, to improve self control.

PS. You may be noticing, you already use this technique when you procrastinate. The reason you haven’t done your taxes or cleaned your closet…………… because the task will take forever i.e. you exaggerated the negative !

Applying the killer cookies concept

So beating the call, of the tantalizing bag of cookies, begins with assigning a calorie value to the experience.

If you want to exhibit self-control, assign them a BIG number (way bigger than reality). Then remind yourself of the consequences of those extra calories, both in terms of what you look like in a bikini, as well as the sugar spike ripping open the blood vessels leading to a heart attack or stroke etc.

See the cookie as a wolf in sheep’s clothing – it looks good on the outside, but in actual fact it is a killer.

Exaggerate the cookie threat

Use a little science on your brain this Christmas season.

Downgrade those edible treats from a delectable must have “reward” to a booby prize.

Counteractive Construal in Consumer Goal Pursuit. Journal of Consumer Research (2010) 37(1):129-142.   Ying Zhang, Szu-Chi Huang and Susan M. Broniarczyk.

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Further reading

brain counting the calories trick and treat your brain to beat procrastination religious activity packs on the pounds
 Sucralose may taste good on the tongue but it doesn’t quite cut it in the brain  Trick and treat your brain to beat procrastination Church membership is a health risk

The 7 Big Spoons™…. are master switches that turn health on.

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Balance Eicosanoids Rein in insulin Dial down stress Sleep ! Increase Vit D Culivate microflora Think champion

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