• All posts,  Self development

    Full on water — re-learning what your stomach feels like when it’s full

    Portion sizes have increased hugely over the last forty years. Lisa Young and Marion Nestle published a great study in American Journal of Public Health in 2002 showing that cookies were twice the size they had been thirty years prior, and that a portion of pasta now had roughly twice the number of calories compared to its 1970’s counterpart. Some things hadn’t changed much, but overall, food manufacturers are clearly trying to get us to eat more and more of their products. And why wouldn’t they? They want to make money. There are two responses to this rising pressure to eat more. Marion Nestle is valiantly fighting the good fight and…

  • All posts,  Self development

    Dealing with cravings by surfing the urge

    Surfing that craving might help you lose weight Craving sweet, fatty, or otherwise unhealthy food might be one of the biggest hurdles that trip up those of us on the path to a healthy weight. Food cravings are a perfectly normal part of life. It’s rare you come across someone who says they never ever have a strong desire to eat some particular food. Lucky b*******s! For the rest of us, there’s urge surfing. “What is this magick of which you speak?” I’m glad you asked. Gordon Marlatt coined the phrase ‘urge surfing’ in a chapter he wrote for a book on achieving behaviour change published in 1994. It’s a…

  • All posts,  Self development

    We could all use a little help

    I read a piece this week in The Philosophers’ Mail called Why you need to go and see a therapist. It’s a really good piece, but it’s a bit narrow in scope. The basic premise is simply that “thinking about our lives is so hard,” that “getting therapeutic help should – ideally – be an ordinary and wholly unsurprising thing.” The article also discusses how most of us see therapy as something for the crazy and traumatised, and certainly not for all of us so-called ‘normal’ people. (Who, honestly, can say they’re ‘normal’?) Well, I agree that therapy has this image, that it has stigma associated with it, but that isn’t…

  • All posts,  Self development

    How to put up with the little annoyances to get what you really want in life

    Western societies have a huge problem when it comes to living a meaningful life. In the last fifty years we’ve seen two huge shifts further towards individualism, first with the swinging sixties, and then again with the have-it-all greed-is-good eighties. If you ask all but the very old, most folk today will say that living a good life means being able to do what you want, having plenty of good experiences, having friends, etc. This is pretty different from a couple of generations ago when lots of people would surely have used elevated phrases like “pillar of the community” and “a real gentleman”. Those ideas were about service to others.…

  • All posts,  Self development

    Those hippie words we use

    I was on holiday last week so I gave myself permission to write something a bit different; to discuss a topic that’s close to my heart though it makes a lot of folk squirm. Let’s talk about spirituality. I meditate regularly and have done so for nearly two decades. I have attended Buddhist events. I have read many English translations of Buddhist texts. I don’t believe everything I read, not least because I think a lot of the language is very metaphorical. I find myself fascinated. Buddhism in particular (which Alan Watts often described as Hinduism stripped for export) seems to be a highly advanced unscientific psychology. I believe a…

  • All posts,  Self development

    TV makes food taste bland

    Last week I suggested a few simple rules to follow if you want to change your eating habits for good. Key to these rules was the idea of paying attention to what you’re eating. We humans are actually pretty awful at paying attention to what we’re paying attention to. That is, we think we’re paying reasonable attention whilst actually we’re not. You might have seen a video of one of the classic experiments demonstrating how rubbish we humans are at paying attention. Try watching the video below, for instance… In videos like this, people generally only notice the gorilla walking casually across the scene about half the time. We really…

  • All posts,  Self development

    The un-diet

    You’ve just got to groove with the food man. In previous posts I’ve explored how traditional weight-loss diets don’t work, how relying on nutritional labels might not help us as much as we think, and how being overly restrained probably leads to binges and over-consumption. So what’s the alternative? Clearly, cutting out ‘unhealthy’ foods completely doesn’t work (that’s partly what we mean by ‘restrained’), and eating piles of junk food isn’t going to make anyone slim. In an unhelpfully concise nutshell, the alternative is ‘the middle way’. Having spent a couple of years reading research findings and conducting my own research on eating, I feel more strongly than ever that…

  • All posts,  Psych science

    The sin of the perpendicular pronoun

    Many psychologists, myself included, want to make psychology more like the natural sciences. Psychology, as a scientific discipline, may be a couple of hundred years younger than chemistry or physics, but with cautious work we will be able to reach the same level of replicability and confidence in our findings, despite the complexity of our subject matter. Unfortunately (and for some reasons too complex to delve into here, perhaps deservedly), most scientists do not regard much of psychology as scientific. The result is that psychologists find themselves on the cusp of scientific respectability, and perhaps that is why psychologists are sometimes behind the curve when it comes to changes in scientific…

  • All posts,  Self development

    I’m saving myself for pie

    For over thirty years, behavioural scientists have investigated so-called ‘restrained eaters’ (Stunkard & Messick, 1985). These people, and to some extent I still count myself among them, tend to eat less than they would really like at mealtimes, and often think about their weight and what they’ve recently eaten in order to decide how much to eat. In other words, rather than eating when hungry, and stopping when full, restrained eaters think things like, “well, I did have that big bagel for breakfast, so I’d better have less for lunch,” or “I ought to be sensible because I’m going out tonight and I know I’ll order a big meal then,”…

  • All posts,  Self development

    Does dieting make you fat?

    Years of dieting have irreparably damaged your metabolism and as a result, you’ll never be as slim as you’d like. Or at least, that’s what a number of doom-mongers would have you believe. In 1984, Geoffrey Cannon published his bestselling book Dieting makes you fat. It sold so well that he re-wrote it and in 2009 released an updated version. Mr Cannon’s claim has become something of an internet meme: the more you restrict your food intake, the likelier you are to get fat in the future. If you loose weight by dieting, you’ll put it all back on, and more, when you stop. There are different explanations for why this paradoxical effect might happen. But regardless, a quick look…