Obesity and body weight issues affect two-thirds of the country. Every year, dieters spend more than 100 billion dollars in mostly unsuccessful weight loss schemes. The obesity epidemic and its associated medical conditions threaten to bankrupt our healthcare system on its current track. We can fix the problem, though, by addressing the main issue – a lack of attention to the psychology of eating behavior. By understanding what makes us eat (and get fat), we ensure the success of any dietary weight loss plan. I believe chief among the main reasons we fail to achieve weight control is a misguided dependence upon the psychological strength of the individual. Unfortunately, when it comes to food, almost 70 percent of the population is hard wired in such a way, that the genetic urge to eat overcomes the conscious benefit of self-control. We need to tap into the powerful force of group psychology instead to help in the battle of the bulge!
In order to understand the topic of weight loss, let’s examine two main components of any dietary weight loss plan; prescription and compliance. The prescription of the diet tells you what to do. Eat so much, at such a time, etc. Compliance addresses how likely it is that someone will stick to the prescription, or diet. The majority of diets fail with compliance. In actuality, most dietary prescriptions work. If we decrease calories, eat low carbs, etc. we lose weight, no doubt about it. However, our brains have not evolved to discriminate very much when it comes to food and eating behavior.
Evolutionarily, getting fat means a higher chance at survival – a concept evident in humans, as well as in many animals that store their energy as fat. The urge to eat for pleasure is directly linked to natural selection. Two million years of human evolution demand that we find high calorie foods pleasurable to eat. This behavior will cause the animal to gain weight and thereby survive to pass on its genes. We cannot ignore this silent and exigent force, equally as powerful as our need to procreate.
Survival behaviors can present a challenge when it comes to people living together. Once you have a bunch of people living in the same geographical location, we must define some fundamental rules that we live by. Otherwise, natural instincts take over, and then it gets ugly. In our Western Judeo-Christian world, we abide by the ten commandments. These provide some general social rules that we collectively agree upon and will (mostly) follow. Pretty much everyone knows these; don’t kill, don’t lie, don’t desire your neighbor’s wife. They get drilled into us as children and taught to us right from wrong. Usually, people consciously try hard not to break the rules, but every so often, people won’t abide by them. So, what force keeps these rules in place? Group psychology. We, as a group, police each other. If someone gets out of line in a public area, the group as a whole will judge, or in the worst cases, shun the offender. Thus, most people tend to comply.
So, if we look at getting fat as just another survival urge, then we can assume that a group approach to weight loss, where the participants are exposed to scrutiny and judgment, will effectively improve the compliance of any dietary program.