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The nutrition and fitness industry is booming, and yet each of us finds it difficult to eat healthy on a daily basis. And if you do manage it for a while, you feel like an outsider. But why is it so difficult to eat healthily and, above all, to stick to it permanently?
Dr. Goldhamer and Dr. Lisle explain in their book “Die Lustfalle – Warum Gesundsein so schwerfällt und was Sie dafür tun können “* the psychological and physiological background to this.
The following paragraphs are a summary from the chapters “Getting along without going with the flow”, “The path of least resistance” and a few additions from my side. To understand this topic even better, it is helpful to additionally read the article “The Pleasure Trap – Everything in Moderation. The myth of moderation“.
Getting along without going alone
People always lived in groups of 50 to 100 people. It was important for them not to appear too “different”. Social “sensitivity” is embedded in our genetics and is part of human nature, and it makes up an important part of being human. When choosing to eat healthy, there is discomfort associated with it because we are at the mercy of social pressures. Ironically, the pressure from those closest to us is also the greatest.
Humans try to have integrity. Integrity in humans always refers to the integration of values and behavior. Generally, people behave with integrity and their behavior conforms to their values on its own. However, time pressure and social pressure can undermine integrity (see Milgram experiment: test subjects were under time pressure and ended up trying to maintain their own reputation with authority even though they knew what they were doing was wrong. Conclusion: subjects would have behaved differently if there had been a choice).
Everyone knows that under pressure the risk of making a wrong decision increases. Also at parties, where there is a lot of food, one quickly feels under pressure to throw one’s own values of health overboard. In order not to be at the mercy of all these components, a few tools are helpful.
1) Be prepared for integrity
People are quickly exposed to integrity risks, as the Milgram experiment shows. When you start to live a healthy life, two types of people will be upset about it.
No. 1 The disinformed
Consists of people who have little idea about health. From childhood, they believe the disinformation campaigns of the meat, dairy, and junk food industries that meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, coffee, alcohol, and industrially processed foods are part of a healthy diet.
So it’s hardly surprising that it fills them with discomfort because we say no to their favorite foods. They feel the urge to force our “otherness” back to “normality”. This makes it more important to be prepared for this pressure.
It is especially helpful with this group of people to pretend that you are not too sure about your healthy eating. Even if you feel the urge to convince others, this is a diplomatic way to appease the other side.
The seem strategy
Example conversation (from p. 152): Person X: “Why do you eat like that? That can’t be healthy, can it?” You: “I’ve always thought that too, but it seems to be working well for me at the moment. I’ve read a few books on it that say this could be the right way for me and would definitely make sense. Person X: “Don’t you need milk and meat? There are important nutrients in there!” You: “I was worried about that too, but that’s settled. My doctor says I’m probably getting everything my body needs. He says it all makes sense to him, and I should stick with it as long as it seems to be working for me.” Person X: “Well, I’m sure I need meat. I couldn’t live without eating a steak every now and then!” You: “Well, maybe my method isn’t right for everyone, but it just works for me. That’s why I want to stick with it for as long as it makes me feel good.”
With this strategy, you show humility and to the other person that you are not a brainwashed “weirdo”. The opposite will most likely still not be comfortable with your behavior. However, this strategy causes the counterpart to feel the urge to put pressure on you and lead you back to conventional ways of lying down. The pressure on the part of the disinformed is almost negligible compared to dealing with the second group, the “upset”.
No. 2 Dealing with the “upset”
This is the group of people who are very close to us (friends, family, significant others). They are people who definitely understand what it is all about. Nevertheless, they are reluctant for us to go down the path of healthy eating. Even if their behavior towards you is rather subconscious, the source of it lies in their shame. You abstain from unhealthy things and they do not because they are subject to the pleasure trap.
This leads directly to a loss of status for them. Status can be diminished or enhanced in different ways. Essential to our social standing are self-discipline and integrity. By deciding to pursue a healthy diet and stop eating unhealthy foods, one enters into a conflict of integrity.
Others subconsciously feel ashamed because they can’t manage to eat healthy, but you do. You react with pain and anger at this shaming. This can express itself, for example, in criticism and sarcasm towards you. Then you hear statements like: “Come on, have a bit, you won’t die from it” or “You should learn to enjoy life again. Have some, I made it especially for you!” We face a challenge because we feel connected to families and friends, but at the same time we have certain values that we don’t really want to break. The most effective method here is to get to the root of the problem, which is the loss of status of those close to us, including the accompanying feelings of shame and hurt.
We make them understand that we do not consider ourselves “better” than them. We reinforce their status by acknowledging all the things we like them for that have nothing to do with their attitude toward healthy living.
Tactic 1: Broaden the context
Show the person the respect they deserve in areas other than a healthy lifestyle, such as appreciation for talents, character traits, clothing style, and more. This strategy only works if you are honest about it. This tactic requires some preparation. Think carefully in advance about the admirable traits, talents, etc. of your friends and family.
Tactic 2: Integrity plus humility
Your friends and family subconsciously fear that you will pass judgment on them for not living a healthy life. As much as you dislike it, make an effort not to lure them to your side. That would only further offend them.
Nevertheless, you must learn to say “no” to manipulative enticements. This tactic is to resist pressure without coming across as if you are morally superior to the other person. You maintain your integrity by showing humility.
Example conversation (from p. 157): Person X: “Come on! I prepared this especially for you.” You: “Great! I’m glad you thought of me, and it looks really yummy, too. But I’m on a real health kick right now, and I just want to hold on to that for a while.” Person X: “At least try a bite of it, I’m sure it won’t hurt you.” You: “You’re right about that. But I’ve only recently let another five be straight and now I don’t want it to happen again. I’m not a master of self-control, and whenever I get off track, I have a hard time finding my way back. At the moment I’m doing quite well, so unfortunately, I have to pass now. Enjoy it, as I said, it looks really delicious, but I’d rather have something else.”
We’re all just human beings acting human. With this tactic, you resist the pressure that is put on you without coming across as if you are morally superior to the other person. You make it clear that self-control, like everyone else, doesn’t come easily to you. It is deeply rooted in our genetics that we make ourselves too dependent on the esteem of others.
Today, however, we have knowledge that helps us correct this error. Societal pressures are enormous, as evidenced by the Milgram experiment. By learning to be prepared with Dr. Lisle’s tools, you can strengthen your integrity.
For self-reflection, identify who in your life is putting pressure on you and be prepared for it.
I also have a video on how to deal in social situations around food: Why Other People Push You to Eat UNHEALTHY and What You Can Do About It
Key to Healthy Eating
One of the most important strategies for staying on track with a healthy lifestyle is to make it as uncomplicated as possible. To understand this, it is first helpful to understand what motivates people.
Food and the motivation triad
The following three characteristics motivate humans:
- The pursuit of pleasure (sex and eating).
- Pain avoidance: unpleasant feelings of hunger (physical pain) or being ashamed because of our “otherness” (psychological pain)
- Energy conservation (e.g. fast food instead of cooking by ourselves)
Pleasure-gain and pain-avoidance traps put major obstacles in our way in the pursuit of health. However, the third component, the pursuit of energy conservation, is the hardest of all to avoid the pleasure trap. Humans by nature tend to take the path of least resistance.
Our technical development is also based on the principle of energy conservation. Man today, in terms of acquiring goods and services, is 12 times more efficient than he was just a few generations ago.
A good example of energy conservation is the story of McDonald’s. The first fast-food restaurant, which, according to Henry Ford, discovered the assembly line. By the end of the 20th century, it was possible for an average person to drive to a fast-food restaurant and get an extremely high-fat, high-calorie meal in a very short time without leaving their car. The meal cost only a few dollars, which was only a fraction of the hourly wage of an average worker. There has never been anything like it in the history of mankind. It is a maximization of motivation triad par excellence.
These innovations have brought many benefits to our lives, but unfortunately, they have also brought a dilemma to our health. We find ourselves in a nutritional pleasure trap. Never in history has our food been as delicious as it is today. Unhealthy foods have become the norm.
If you refuse to do so, conflicts with colleagues, families, and friends are inevitable. If you choose to eat healthy, you run the risk of being seen as anti-social. It’s hard to counter all the culinary temptations. Our energy-saving mechanisms are still deeply embedded in us today and influence many of our everyday decisions. For our ancestors, the path of least resistance was the best one for their survival. But this is no longer true for us today, as the world for which the path of least resistance was intended no longer exists.
If you are interested in your health and a good life, you often have to go against your own instincts. This is not an easy task, but with a little preparation, the chances of preserving one’s physical and psychological integrity increase.
Strategies to a healthy life
1) No junk food in the house
“If It’s in your house, it’s in your mouth.” – Chef AJ
This rule involves the power of the pursuit of pleasure and the pursuit of energy conservation. Foods high in fat and sugar have a drug-like effect on our nervous system. Constantly having to struggle with the question: “should I or shouldn’t I?”, takes a lot of energy. Sooner or later, one becomes weak and reaches for unhealthy foods. This is the most important strategy and most promising of all: “No junk food in the house!”
2) The weekly menu plan
Our hunter-gatherer psyche is dedicated to daily food intake without paying attention to this thought. Our ancestors, however, were busy finding and preparing food all day long. For us, this is no longer true, because the modern world has made it easier for us to do this and we can use our time for other things. All the more important is a healthy menu plan so that we do not succumb to the temptations of fast food and co.
Look for healthy recipes that provide inspiration for an entire week. Write it all down and create a detailed shopping list. This plan is ready and must be taken so only once a week to hand for shopping.
If this becomes too rigid for you in the long run, you can create a few more weekly plans based on the same principle. It also helps to have large stocks of non-perishable goods on hand, e.g. rice, oats, beans, etc.
Hunger creates pressure and pressure demands a quick solution. This makes planning all the more important. You can get free recipes, among other things, at:
3) Pre-cook large quantities
Many recipes can be precooked and frozen. Pick your favorite ones. Also, many starchy side dishes will keep for several days in the refrigerator. Pre-cooking saves time and energy and is a big help in avoiding the pain of hunger.
4) Make snack packs
If you spend a lot of time in the car or are on the go a lot, it’s even more important to always have something healthy on hand. The only thing easier than driving to the nearest fast-food restaurant is to reach into the back of the car. Examples of healthy snacks: fruit, vegetable sticks, dried fruit, and nuts.
5) Eat enough – until satisfaction
Hunger means pressure and we want to prevent this pain. In fact, those who are hungry are more likely to choose to reach for unhealthy food. This makes it all the more important to follow the previous points. Plant foods are overall lower in calorie density than processed and sugary and fatty foods. For this reason, you can eat larger amounts of them without gaining weight. Eat your vegetables, fruits, starches, and legumes. When you are full, it is easier to resist temptations in the supermarket, at parties, or on other occasions.
6) Get support
It helps immensely to get together with people who eat the same way you do. Especially if your family and friends don’t. Group support will keep you motivated and it’s easier and more fun to walk this path together. Look for like-minded people in your community or on the internet.
Eating healthy these days is one of the most difficult challenges we face in life, but one of the most rewarding.
Feel free to contact me if you need help with this.
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The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force That Undermines Health & Happiness