The ‘Nudge Factor’ and Weight Loss

No, I did not say the “Fudge Factor” and weight loss, much as that is what you are wishing for. Although, like I say with any of your favorite foods; yes, you can lose weight eating chocolate, ice cream, and okay, fudge, too.

But I am talking here about something they call the “Nudge Factor”. I was reading about it in the New York Times Magazine this weekend, where a phenomenon was described in Holland. Basically, they drew flies around the drain of the urinals in the men’s rooms in airports there, and found an 80% reduction in the spillage, or messes usually found. It seems that men really do love a target. My guess is that is that there might be a little hardwiring operative here, but the really interesting aspect is the simplicity of the environmental cue, and its powerful effect.

Unfortunately, weight loss and maintaining weight loss, is a much more complex issue. It goes beyond information about nutrition, or a rational understanding of what one ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t do. If it were simple, the diet industry would not be doing such a bang up business.

However, I am going to tilt this ‘nudge factor’ a bit, and rather than thinking of it simply as environmental cueing of behavior, I am going to think of ‘the nudge’ of behavior, in a ‘less is more’ manner.

There are two ways you could think of it, to see if you could pick one thing in your life, one of your habits with food and/or exercise, that you want to change. The two principles we are working with here are:

1) Subtle changes in your environment, or not so subtle, that help ‘cue’ you to do the thing you want to; i.e. put your sneakers on first thing in the morning after you get out of bed if you really want to push yourself to exercise, or keep the lights off in the kitchen after dinnertime and truly imagine the kitchen as closed.

2) Less is More. The idea that you need to pick some aspects of your eating or exercise that you can modify a little bit. Not too drastically since you stand more of a chance of losing the weight and then regaining it, if it really doesn’t fit into regular life. Think less ‘Diet,’ and more ‘Tweak’. So for instance, when you reach for your fourth handful of chips, stop at 3. Or perhaps 2. Slight modification.

Along with the less is more concept, (when you berate yourself that you didn’t get to the gym) do 3 sets of pushups. Start with two if you can’t do more, and keep your knees down. Again, start small. We are talking small modifications. Work up to 3 sets of reps, no more than 10, and you only need to try to do it 2-3 x a week. Over time, you will be amazed at how small ‘tweaks’ modify your behavior. Little bits add up, and when we are talking input output here of calories taken in and burnt, things start to happen. More importantly, your motivation will be sustained, as it will be more realistically built into your life.

I know you have to work a little harder to figure this out; I wish I could just come paint flies on your fridge. Although, hey, try that; it might just work!

Happy Tweaking!

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