Thursday, June 4, 2009

Inspiration from TED

I find myself a little short on time and inspiration for blogging these days, and so will try to experiment with some shorter posts.

I'm also going to cheat a little and borrow some inspiration, often from TED.

STEP 1 - Watch this awesome 15 min TED talk by Dan Ariely:
The first half is entertaining but somewhat less relevant...still, stick it out.

STEP 2. Pause for thought:

The cognitive problems Dan Ariely discusses apply completely to our choices about food and the habits that lead to obesity. As he says, we are "predictably irrational" creatures.

Although there is the prevailing idea that we actually "choose" what we eat, in reality the vast majority of food decisions are not a conscious rational choice.

The "food environment", that is the physical and experiential setting in which food is available to be eaten, is par none the strongest determinant of what we eat. If there is lots of food around, we will eat lots. If there is none, we will eat none. Give us a bigger box of cereal with a bigger bowl and spoon and we will eat more cereal, no matter how hungry we are. If the normal behavior is to finish our plate (or eat meat), we will be much more likely to do that.

Of course, the food and restaurant industry discovered this reality decades ago and has been exploiting it ever since.

Yes, highly motivated individuals can be taught strategies to overcome the influence of the food environment. This is why doctors and nutritionists write diet books and open clinics. This is something we are obligated to do! But, this strategy has and never will work for the majority of people.

To affect change in the majority, we must learn how to change the food environment and the social norms that operate in them. That is our great task.