It’s easy to post tips and suggestions for people to try on the surface - “eat this” or “buy that.” But how do you begin to help people address their deeper thoughts and beliefs?
One strategy is visualization. People are perhaps most familiar with positive visualization. Books and social movements like “The Secret” inspire the notion that we are in control of what happens to us. Does that mean we are responsible if / when things go awry?
Lately I have been loving a new podcast by Dr Laurie Santos called, “The Happiness Lab.” It provides a wonderful smattering of so much of the psychology and techniques used in patient sessions.
In episode 7, she gives a deep dive into the idea and some of the science behind visualization - both from the positive perspective and contrast.
Most people are familiar with positive visualization - to think of the goal you want to achieve and to visualize yourself reaching it with every agonizing detail. It’s commonly used in sport to help athletes realize their potential. It’s also a common strategy in the professional world - to see yourself and fully experience that big presentation going well.
But what many people don’t realize is that there’s evidence to support that it can actually backfire. Because if you feel so confident in achieving that goal, that you neglect to put in the actual work to get there…(or to foresee the very real obstacles that can get in your way), you may underestimate the amount of work it takes to get there. That's where contrast visualization comes in. It's a strategy to anticipate and create solutions to potential challenges.
Applying it to Nutrition
Night time eating is a common challenge for many people. Many dream of having the “will-power” to end the night time eating. Despite a strong belief that tomorrow will be better, they don’t see change. Why? It has little to do with self-control, will power, weakness or other human failing.
Let’s look at this common scenario.
So non judgmentally look at the chain of events again and you can clearly see many obstacles. Some of which are self-created and modifiable :
As you can see, there are many drivers setting this person up for a really tough evening. No amount of "will-power" or "self-control" will change the outcome long term. Instead, it's likely that the fear and avoidance of candy is really what's at play here. It's not helpful to say, "well just eat candy in X amount." Because honestly, eating the candy is connected to a much deeper fear, belief, and sense of self.
We have many underlying thoughts and beliefs that drive our core behaviors. Some of them we’re fully aware of, others need unpacking.
Certainly there are times that fear is appropriate to drive our behavior (eg, I wear my seatbelt to protect me against the fear of a car accident. This fear and consequential behavior restricts my movement but otherwise does not harm or limit me). But there are other times fear is inappropriate and not serving us, as can often occur with the drive for weight loss and food avoidance.
Often what we do in a nutrition session is breakdown and challenge previous habitual behavior thoughts and chains and work to form new experiences that better serve an individual.
One common technique is using “if, then” statements to begin understand what might be driving an underlying thought or fear.
Nutrition looks easy on the surface. We want to believe we decide what to eat based on strong evidence and rationale. But the truth is, we're all human. We're prone to deeply rooted thoughts and beliefs based on our past experiences - and that's ok! The goal is to give those beliefs some attention to decide which ones truly serve us best.
Stay nourished friends!
DISCLAIMER: The writing here is for informational and educational purposes only. It is NOT a substitute for individual care. Your needs may vary. or individual support, please contact a provider.
Please note it's been a number of years since I have updated these posts. The content and philosophies may have changed as I've grown as a provider. Please reach out with questions or concerns.
Dietitian, personal trainer, mother, wife, runner, and endurance athlete supporting well-being, one bit and bite at a time