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The Psychology of Thanksgiving Eating!!!

October 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Thanksgiving, it is one of the few days a year when we give ourselves permission to absolutely gorge ourselves with an amount of food that we would never consider consuming on an average day! Those of us trying to successfully manage our weight, know the advice and the tricks that are suggested to limit the intake of calories and none of them really works very well.

So let’s look at some studies on the psychology of eating, undereating and overeating and see if we can learn something from this scientific research that might allow us to better manage our environment, companions and ambiance settings and thus decrease our intake of calories.

Probably the two easiest strategies are to shrink your stomach during the week prior to Thanksgiving and to wear tight clothing the day of the feast. Dr. Joseph Risser, director of clinical research at Lindora Medical Clinics, states that by limiting the volume of food that is ingested at each meal, one can successfully shrink the stomach in about 3 days. By eating smaller meals more frequently during the days leading up to Thanksgiving, you will feel fuller faster because of the stomach’s smaller condition. Wearing tight-fitting clothes will have the same effect of making you more mindful of the amount you have eaten, according to several Weight Watchers coaches. It is immediate feedback, which can really help!

Some other strategies are to: eat breakfast and limit liquid intake the day of the feast. Research by Health Management Resources in Boston, reveals that people who eat breakfast actually consume fewer calories over a whole day than do those who skip the first meal of the day. By eating a light, yet sensible breakfast, you won’t come to the table starving and may be able to manage the temptations more successfully.

And contrary to some popular advice, which says to fill up on liquids before and during meals, research shows that parched rats tend to refuse their chow, while well-hydrated rats eat as they would normally. In humans studies, the evidence is similar with people tending to eat less when mildly dehydrated.

Some other research shows that how you set and clear the table influences the amount eaten! Using smaller serving utensils and dinner plates and tall, thin glasses tends to result in people eating and drinking less. Even people who are calorie conscious and knowledgeable, tend to serve themselves 31% more when using larger plates and if they are given large serving utensils, they end up serving themselves 51% more!

When it comes to glasses of caloric beverages, people will tend to consume 74% more from a short, squat glass than from a tall, thin one as the brain perceives the amounts to be equal! Perhaps this is because the tall, thin glasses almost always get turned over!

Studies also show that the way a table is cleared influences the amount eaten, as an uncleared table reminds eaters of how much has been consumed while a tidy, constantly cleared table is perceived as an invitation to start over! This can add up to almost a 30% difference in unconscious, calorie consumption.

Some other findings have to do with the numbers and types of people with whom you dine. Eat alone and you will eat less. Research shows that when you eat with one other person, the average food consumption rises by 35% and when you eat with a group of people, you tend to consume almost 3 times the calories that you do when dining solo! This is especially true if you are comfortable with the people with whom you are eating, as most people tend to eat less when they are in an uncomfortable scenario.

Lastly, there is the ambiance to contend with. Low lights and restful colors encourage us to linger and eat more (think McDonald’s vs. your favorite French restaurant).

So when all is said and done, we should fast for a few days this week, limit our liquid intake, eat Thanksgiving dinner alone or with people we don’t like, in a brightly lit, uncomfortable setting using small plates, serving utensils and tall, skinny glasses. Sounds almost as silly as all the other Thanksgiving Day eating advice, doesn’t it?

For health and happiness, my advice is: work out regularly before the holiday, eat sensibly beforehand, relax and have a great Thanksgiving dinner while you enjoy the people around you and then get back to the gym as soon afterwards as possible! Enjoy!

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What is a Life Worth?

    “FLOW” is a state of being which is demonstrated when we are totally caught up in what we are doing…time seems to vanish…we are engaged, energetic and vital, our concentration is effortless and all-consuming!

It is manifested when we use our personal strengths in response to situations wherein the perfect balance between challenge and self-efficacy exists: the task at hand is difficult but we beleive that we have what it takes to successfully complete it.

Interestingly most people experience more “FLOW” at work than at home!  Generally “FLOW” occurs when a person is doing his or her favorite activity;creating music, gardening, writing, reading, playing a sportl. It also found in many types of social settings where people are engaged in a common effort, think volunteering time and energy in pursuit of goal which benefits another.  But thereally interesting thing is that  people rarely report experiencing “FLOW” in passive leisure-type activities, such as relaxing or watching TV.

Here is a great video from TED.com in which Dr.iMihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of the book entitled, “FLOW”, discusses the topic.  Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXIeFJCqsPs&feature=related

Is Happiness Gender Specific?

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment


Recent research actually shows that happiness may have a gender specific component and that it is apparent even during fetal development. By the 8th week after conception, the female brain begins to differentiate from the male brain in very specific ways.

The female brain generates more neurons and therefore more neuronal connections in areas like the hippocampal region, which is actually physically larger in the female brain than in the male brain. This area is one component of the brain that is thought to govern emotional experience.

This may explain why many women have more capacity for tolerance and patience than most men do. It isn’t just in the areas that govern emotions that womens’ brains are more abundantly wired. The same is true in other parts of the brain which govern language; in fact women have 11% more neurons for language and hearing than do their male counterparts. Perhaps this is why we have to ask our husbands and sons to take the trash out repeatedly!

The male brain is wired completely differently. In the male brain, the neuronal circuitry is more abundant in areas of the brain, like the amygdala which is thought to govern aggression and sex drive. In fact the amygdala is up to 2 1/2 % smaller in women’s brains. Perhaps this is why women tend to be the peacemakers and men have traditionally been the warriors.

All of this different wiring leads researchers to hypothesize that happiness may have a genetic component, with women finding more happiness in strong relationships and community and men finding more happiness derived from acquisition and accomplishment.

Does this make men or women happier as a whole? Research indicates that women are alternately happier and sadder and that men tend to be more stable in their emtional experiences. After studying twins, one researcher has suggested that there is an actual “Happiness Set Point” that seems to be genetically determined. Similar to our weight’s set point, this is the level fron which we may deviate temporarily but to which we always seem to gravitate back.

The good new seems to be that while happiness may be up to 50% determined by genes and another 10% may be determined by circumstantial factors such as environment, income and comfort, the remaining 40% of our happiness is determined by how we choose to see life and how we react to what happens to us.

We can learn to experience life as if it holds blessings or curses in store for us, and our level of happiness will reflect this expectation… regardless of whether we happen to be male or female.

Gratitude – The Best Medicine Around!

January 1, 2010 Leave a comment

The New Year is here and we have all resolved to be healthier and happier this year. A large component of psychological happiness seems to be rooted in one’s ability to experience and express gratitude. The evidence from empirical research indicates that gratitude may be “the ultimate positive emotion.”

The cultivation of gratitude dictates that we have a spatial orientation that embraces the past, present and future. We look to the past to identify experiences which were rich in meaning for us and are grateful for their being part of the fabric of our lives. Being able to identify these meaningful experiences from our past allows us to concentrate on putting ourselves in situations and around people where we are more likely to replicate those kinds of feelings again, thus maintaining a positive context and orientation in our experience of the present.

If we are happy today, we are more likely to view the future with positive expectations and to put in place the things that will bring about that kind of experience. Research is showing that our expectations about our future may have tangible impact on not only our happiness but also on our health and longevity. A recent study shows that those with positive expectations of aging, tend to age with fewer health challenges and to actually live longer than those who have negative expectations about aging.

In conclusion, look to your past for that which you are grateful, use that lesson to shape your present in a way that will keep you happy and thankful so that you may live long and well and you will always be able to look back and say, “Thank You!”

Processed Foods Contribute to Depression?

November 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Understanding mental illness has been a challenge for years. That’s why it is so exciting when research reveals an avenue that may help us to prevent and/or control mental health issues like Depression.

Today the BBC cited new information, reported in the British Journal of Psychiatry, which ties processed food to the development of depression. This study, done in the UK, compared a group of subjects who consumed a diet comprised of mostly whole foods (fruits, veges, fish etc.) to a group of subjects whose diet was more typical of the average British person (or American person), being made up of processed foods such as; sweetened desserts, fried food, processed meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy products.

The results of this 5 year study were impressive in that the subjects who ate larger amounts of processed foods had a 58% higher risk of developing depression and those whose diet consisted predominantly of whole foods had a 26% lower risk of developing depression.

It makes perfect sense that the body and the mind are intricately connected and this exciting new research shows us just how much control we may have over how we feel emotionally. Furthermore, it offers proof that perhaps we should all be listening to our mothers…because they were right when they told us to “eat your vegetables…they’re good for you!”

The Weight of the Holidays

October 31, 2009 Leave a comment

The little monsters came and went with Halloween and now we are left holding the bag of left over treats! What will you do with yours? We certainly don’t want to waste food now do we? So odds are that one by one, we will eat those tempting left over treats. And when they are gone we will be facing Thanksgiving feasts and then the Christmas season with all of its attendant parties and food-centered gatherings. No wonder then that the average American will gain 5-7 pounds between Halloween and New Years Day!

We are counseling our clients that now is the time to take a proactive approach to the holidays in order to avoid gaining those extra holiday pounds and we are encouraging you to make a commitment to someone and to stay accountable to that person regarding diet and exercise whether it is a friend, family member or your personal trainer.

Recent research, reported in the New Englad Journal of Medicine, indicates that your friends and family members are a key part of weight loss and are also important too a successful weight management program. A recent study of over 12,000 adults reported that a person’s risk of becoming obese increased by roughly 40% if her spouse or sibling became obese and that risk jumped as high as 170% if a close friend were to become obese.

This is why it is important for friends and family to support one another’s goals this time of year. And it is also important for you to know what your own goals for your weight are. Knowing what your calorie intake per day should be is extremely helpful. For women, take your current weight (or desired weight) and multiply it by 11 (men multiply by 12) and that will give you the number of calories that you can ingest each day and neither gain nor lose weight. Simply knowing this number helps many people think about what they put in their mouths and that single action can help keep you true to your weight management goals this holiday season!

We will share some Holiday Weight Management Tips in the coming days to help provide you with the tools to meet the holidays head on and have no regrets come January first! That way you greet the New Year with Health and Happiness and in the mean time, donate your left over candy to a food bank, daycare center or a local Boys & Girls Club – or even better – just throw it away!

Be Happy and Healthy – Here’s How!

January 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Are there things to be worried about right now? You bet!!! The economy, swine fly, our kids and parents are just a few of the things that cause us concern. Today’s adults, teens and even children have their plates full of things that can bring stress, worry and anxiety with them. Note that these situations CAN cause these feelings in us but they don’t HAVE to. Researchers are showing in study after study that it isn’t stress that makes us worry, it is the way in which we CHOOSE to react to those stressors.

Take public speaking, an example of a situation which causes many people to feel anxious, worried and sometimes even physically sick. Yet not all people respond to the stressor in this manner because they do not perceive it to be a stressful situation. Again, it is how we perceive stress and how we respond to it that determines the effect that it will have on us both mentally and physically.

Recent research indicates that self efficacy (a feeling of being in control of a situation) influences our immune system, our emotional happiness and even our longevity. Stress, by its nature, is defined as a situation that challenges a person (or an animal) beyond his/her ability to deal with the demands of that situation. In other words, if you feel capable in a situation, you do not experience if as stressful. If you feel helpless, you do feel stress.

So rather than worry about things we cannot control; the economy, the people in our lives, whether we seccumb to the flu or not, we need to focus on those things that we can influence in a positive way. Here are just few tips for having health and happiness:

  • Living in the present rather than the past or the future and really savoring the moments that give us joy is one method for increasing our happiness and health.
  • With permission from your doctor, start a program of physical activity. Research shows that moving your body increases health and happiness by releasing chemicals called endorphins and endocannabinoids (natural chemicals similar to those in morphine and marijuana!). Not only will moving increase your physical health but it will also increase your mental health as well and you might live longer too!
  • Be grateful for what you have rather than wishing your life were different. No matter how poor or how successful you are, there will ALWAYS be someone better off and someone worse off. If you want to be REALLY happy, go find the one who is worse off and do something to help or cheer or take care of that person. Research shows that people who do things for others are happier than those who do things for themselves!
  • Choose happiness. The brain is wired so that it can only experience one emotion at a time. If you are feeling worried, scared or sad, if you stop for a moment and look for something beautiful, happy or comforting, that is what your brain will experience. You have the ability to re-wire your feelings, again choose happiness.
  • Choose health. Research shows that happy people are sick less often and that when they do get sick, their symptoms are less severe and last less time AND they live longer than do unhappy people.

Bottom line: it is up to you! You can allow the circumstances of this world to dictate how you feel and you will be on a constant see-saw of emotions OR you can choose health and happiness. What will YOU choose?

Research:

Cohen, S., Alper, C.M. , Doyle, W.J.,Treanor, J.J. & Turner, R.B. (2006). “Positive Emotional Style Predicts Resistance to Illness After Experimental Exposure to Rhinovirus or Influenza A Virus.” Psychosomatic Medicine 68:809-815

Hitlin, S. (2007). Doing good, feeling good: Values and the self’s moral center. The Journal of Positive Psychology: 2(4): 249–259

Pressman S.D., Cohen S. (2005) “Does Positive Affect Influence Health?” Psychological Bulletin. 2005;131:925–71.

Ratey, J.J. (2008). Spark; The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Little Brown and Company: New York.

Ray, O. (2004). “How the Mind Hurts and Heals the Body.” American Psychologist: Vol. 59, No. 1, 29–40

Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (1987). Dispositional optimism and physical well-being: The influence of generalized outcome expectancies on health. Journal of Personality, 55, 169–210.

Seligman, M.E.P. (1998). Learned Optimism. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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