Psych Out

In college I majored in computer science. But for some odd reason I also have a minor in psychology. Worse, I’m only three dang classes away from a double major. From time to time I think about just taking the electives and getting it over with. But then I think, what the heck would I do with a major in psychology that I can’t do with a minor?. Namely, nothing.

Until now.

The Thursday category, as you can see from the banner at the top of the page, is called “No Help Here.” This was supposed to be an ironic name in that I’d fully intended to provide actual help at least once a week. But as I look back on all the Thursday posts, I don’t think I’ve provided much help at all.

Until now.

Today I’m going to combine the powers of my impressive psychology background with the spirit of this helpful category and tell you everything you’ll ever need to know about losing weight and keeping it off (for at least five days). Ready? Let’s begin with the background noise:

First, the physiology. To lose weight just take in fewer calories than you expend. You can place this handy tidbit in The Obvious Files, right next to sticking your hand in the fire hurts and the sun tends to rise right as night ends.

Now, the psychology. To make sure you’re operating at the prescribed caloric deficit, you’ve just gotta totally psych yourself out. Yep, that’s it. Four years of psychology studies combined with twenty years of actual dieting, and that’s my wisdom to you. But don’t worry. I’ll expound a bit more. 🙂

Let’s begin by looking at the traditional approaches to this:

The Diet. While we normally think of the diet as a plan or program, it’s really all in your head. Simply knowing you’re on a diet helps your brain make the right choices in tough situations. Pros: the diet’s been around forever, it has to work, right? Cons: Baloney! Diets don’t work at all. If they did, I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it.

Everything in Moderation. Since the diet was an obvious failure, it became extraordinarily popular to instead just take everything in moderation. The idea is that there are no bad foods, only bad habits. Ergo, if you could just eat one slice of pizza instead of two entire pizzas, you really could eat anything you wanted. Pros: Works great on paper. Cons: Completely ignores the supremely powerful grip pizza has on us. If I could actually sit in front of a hot, steamy, cheesy pizza and even have the word “moderation” enter my brain for one second, it’d be a miracle. Like sneezing with your eyes open, it’s just not possible.

The Lifestyle Change. Since pizza simply would not release its grip on us, we collectively invented the lifestyle change. The basic premise goes something like this: if you know you can’t control yourself around pizza, then change your lifestyle to avoid coming into contact with it. For example, you could move to central Greenland. Pros: Truly changing the way you live can have an enormous positive impact on your weight control. Cons: I just checked Pizza Hut’s web site and, sure enough, they deliver to Greenland.

The sad fact remains that dieting, moderation, and lifestyle changes, while successful for some, simply don’t work for the vast majority of us. They all represent swimming against the current and that’s very hard to sustain when the current constantly floats pumpkin pies and ginormous tubs of movie popcorn towards us, even when we’ve done everything in our power to avoid them. Hence, my last ditch effort to help:

brainThe Psych Out. Life is motion. And every moment of every day is a decision about where to move next. It might be small, like should my fingers click this keyboard for another few sentences? It might be large, like should I quit college and become a starving musician like I always dreamed about? But whether you’re deciding how high to pull up your socks or which house to buy, it all originates from that lump of gray matter in your head called a brain. It’s in control (and nothing makes this fact quite as clear as when it gets injured. Damage it, and you can lose voluntary control of body parts. You can see things that aren’t there. Hit it in just the right place and you can even find yourself with a brand new personality.)

When presented with the opportunity to eat a bag of cake frosting, let’s really think about what happens. Photons from a light source bounce off the frosting, enter our eyes, and hit our retinas. Signals are sent up the optic nerves to sight areas of the brain which process the image against various memories and patterns, eventually stimulating cells in the Anterior Sugar and Candy Lobe of the brain. Millions of other pieces of information are processed along with this such as: when did you last eat, are you hungry now, are blood sugars low or high, are you warm or cold, are you on a diet, do you care if you’re on a diet, do you have a blog post due tomorrow where you must triumphantly tell the world you didn’t eat the damn bag of cake frosting. All of this (and far more) is going on in an instant and eventually one of two things happens: 1) the brain sends signals to various limbs to bring the cake frosting up to your mouth or 2) it makes your legs go somewhere else.

This is where the Psych Out comes in. It’s about arming yourself with that one tiny bit of information that will affect the outcome of that decision. I don’t know what that is. It’s different for everybody. The trick is finding out what it is, and making sure it weighs heavily in that near-instantaneous decision making process going on in your noodle.

All the diets, moderation, and lifestyle changes in the world won’t matter if you don’t have this one thing to get you through the thousands of decisions your brain makes every day. I’ve only come to this realization over the last few years and I’m still refining the concept. I’ll definitely keep you all posted. In the meantime, I’ve gotten pretty hungry writing a thousand words here, so I gotta get back to the fridge.

I’ve decided to have an apple.

8 Responses to “Psych Out”

Megan said
October 9, 2008 at 7:39 am

True brilliance! I love every word and it is so true!

Charlie said
October 9, 2008 at 7:57 am

Megan, I think you’re now president of my fan club. I’ll put you in contact with the other fan later today.

Christy said
October 9, 2008 at 8:12 am

How can I qualify for VP? Oh…or if I am the treasurer can I have some money to play with? 🙂

Dinah Soar said
October 9, 2008 at 9:39 am

Excellent, excellent post!!

You’ve given a concise explanation of what it takes so many of us years to discover. Only recently have I gotten to the Psych Out level–understanding that my brain has a huge role in “weighty” matters.

Now if I can just figure out what my personal psych out is I’ll be able to lose these last few pounds–the ones I regained after losing 50 pounds twice.

It’s been really hard lately, but giving up, as I’ve done in the past, didn’t solve anything, so I keep plugging away.

Megan said
October 9, 2008 at 6:41 pm

Just gave you an award over on my blog! Come check it out!

AmyC said
October 11, 2008 at 12:49 am

Great post! Now I am hungry for cake frosting…thanks. 😛

debby schnabel said
January 2, 2009 at 10:50 am

Charlie, thanks for linking to this on Roni’s blog. Excellent advice. Now to figure out ‘that one thing.’ Like the famous line from City Slickers…

Bonnie said
January 2, 2009 at 1:11 pm

So true….and you’re so funny, Charlie! Thanks for that!