Friday, April 24, 2009

Control Your Environment

Do you ever have this problem? There's one little corner of the office that has the candy and cookies and pie and every time you walk by those areas, you get hungry.

Or, you're at home, watching TV, and you look down, and you've eaten the entire bag again.

When you have control over your environment, it's easier to stop yourself from screwing up. I know this isn't exactly ground-breaking stuff, but like I say over and over again, the most basic principles, applied diligently and regularly, are all you typically need. Does it help to know the biochemistry of the human body? Without a doubt, but it helps more to eat less of whatever you're eating.

All of this is reminding me a bit of--What's his name? Mike Magnusson. He wrote a book about losing weight and finding himself--Heft on Wheels: A Field Guide to Doing a 180". The first half of the book, that's what I'm identifying with.

Anyway, old Mike starts punishing himself on his bike, and doing crunches and stuff, and he's drinking espresso and protein shakes, and not much else. Really, it seems like a pretty extreme version of the Velocity Diet. Really, though, whatever he had to do, he was willing to do. I think that's the point you have to reach.

I don't mean that to be discouraging--the key here is to put the dumb part of your brain in touch with the smart part of your brain (this is the way that Merlin Mann talks about lifehacks). The lifehack in this situation is to not have the bad food in your house.

If you want to know why this is so important, take a minute to listen to Radiolab's Choice episode. Go ahead, it's worth it. For those of you who want the summary, just check this out. You hear what happens when you get distracted by some cognitive task, just a little? You take the cake.

Now think of your average work day. How much stress is there? How many times does bad food show up, all on its' own? This is why, I think, people gain weight when they stop smoking: they're so consumed with stopping themselves from smoking that they can't control their drives to eat.

So the smart part of your brain says, "Don't eat cake," and the dumb part of your brain says "cake". In a head-to-head matchup, who wins? The dumb part. The dumb part is big, strong, and willful.

But the solution is simple--the good news about the smart part of your brain is that it's smart. If the smart part of your brain can engineer situations where there is no cake to be had, then it wins by default. The dumb part of your brain never knows what it's missing, because it is only triggered by being near the stuff you crave. That's why TV is such a bitch if you want to lose weight.

In addition to making you less active, the TV actually makes you eat more. Why? How long can you go without seeing an ad for food if you watch TV? 8 minutes? Maybe?

The point of all this is to say: Control your environment, don't let your environment control you.

Don't bring the crap into your house. The best way to do this is to make a list of the food that is on your diet, hopefully whole and fresh, and go shopping for it after you've eaten.

At the office or workplace, don't go to where the crap is. And you know what the crap is: sugary, cakey, floury: crap. Anything made with corn, oil, or corn oil.

Cancel your cable. I don't think you should get rid of your TV, but maybe cancelling your cable isn't so bad. I like for this very reason: no ads, and you get to watch exactly the shows you want, in sequence. At the very least, using a TiVo or something to skip the ads would be part of the game plan to keep the temptation at arm's length.

By controlling your environment, you control temptation. If you can control temptation, you can control your diet. If you control your diet, you control your weight--and that's the whole point.

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