Archive for Weight Control

How Celebrities Help Us Battle Mental Illness

clintonquoteonmentalillnessFor better or worse, when a prominent figure reveals his struggle with mental illness, the world listens.  Hopes. Empathizes. Relates. Those who are coping with the same illness appreciate the public sharing of his pain and suffering and realize, thankfully, that they are not alone. When a celebrity emerges from rehab scarred, but no worse for the wear, we begin to understand that there is hope for the rest of us. We can learn to control our demons and our dark days knowing that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t another train coming. There is great comfort in knowing that several respected celebrities —Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Karen Carpenter, Aretha Franklin—have shared similar struggles.

Many famous people have had or currently battle mental illness. One web site lists some 300, including Ludwig von Beethoven, Ernest Hemingway, Abraham Lincoln, Alanis Morrisette, Billy Joel and even Jean-Claude Van Damme. The fact is, if you are battling mental illness, you are not alone.  Even people whose lives are seemingly perfect are not immune. Seeking professional help is not a character flaw; in fact, it makes one stronger!  Explore the experiences of the celebrities listed here:

Rosie O’Donnell: The talk show host, actress and comedienne has talked extensively about her life-long battle with depression. Says O’Donnell, “Anyone concerned about the stigma of taking medication for depression should know that it saved my life.” When she began taking antidepressants, O’Donnell also started yoga and inversion therapy. O’Donnell has also revealed that she has seasonal affective disorder.

Marie Osmond: Osmond is one of the most sympathetic entertainers to speak about mental illness. She had a breakdown in 1999 and told The Daily Mail that things started to spiral downhill after the birth of her son, Matthew.

Brian Wilson: The former Beach Boy and Grammy-award winning singer/songwriter has several mental illness issues, including schizoaffective disorder that caused him to suffer from delusions similar to schizophrenia and to hear voices constantly. With medication and therapy, Wilson has learned to control the voices and ease his depression and anxiety.

Brooke Shields: Shields battled post-partum depression after her daughter Rowan was born and in her darkest moments, seriously considered suicide. “I believed I should not exist,” says Shields. “The baby would be better off without me. Life was never going to get better — so I better just go. Finally I did fight. And I survived.”

Buzz Aldrin: The astronaut who flew to the moon battles depression and alcoholism. Through therapy and Alcoholics Anonymous, Aldrin has been sober for more than 30 years and has served as chairman of the National Mental Health Association.

Catherine Zeta-Jones: In 2011, the Oscar winning actress/singer checked herself into a mental health facility for treatment and revealed that she had been diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. Says Zeta-Jones, “I have a British stiff-upper-lip mentality; it wasn’t something I wanted to shout from the rooftops. But when it did come to light, I knew I was not the only person who suffered with it or had to deal with it on a day-to-day basis.”

Jim Carrey: The actor and comedian has openly discussed his history of depression and addictions to alcohol and prescription medication. He took Prozac for a while, but now uses faith and living in the moment to control his illnesses.

Patty Duke: The Academy Award-winning actress discussed her bipolar disorder in the autobiographical made-for-TV movie “Call Me Anna” and her autobiography, “A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic-Depressive Illness.” She remembers the day her psychiatrist said, “I think you’re manic-depressive.” “My reaction was… God, it has a name. This thing that had floated and spiked and fallen actually had a name. It was almost as if, ‘See? I’m not crazy, it has a name!’” After taking lithium prescribed by her psychiatrist, Duke realized there was an absence of those negative disruptive impulses.

J.K. Rowling: Depression hit the Harry Potter author when her first marriage broke down after just two years. She credits writing her first Harry Potter novel with helping her overcome the depression.

Carrie Fisher: The Star Wars star and best-selling author has talked and written at length about her ongoing struggle with bipolar disorder, most notably in her memoirs “Wishful Drinking” and “Shockaholic”. “I thought if I could ever get this to be funny, it would be brilliant,” she said of her mental health struggle. “But it took a really long time. My life dealing with the bipolar situation was far from funny.”

Jon Hamm: The Mad Men star had a lot of dark days after losing his father at age 20. “I was…unmoored by that. I struggled with chronic depression. I was in bad shape.” Therapy and antidepressants helped to pull him out and give him another perspective.

Unfortunately, many still view mental illness as a moral, rather than a medical or developmental, issue. As a result, they tend to pass judgment, refuse to talk about it or hope it’ll just go away. Ignoring mental health issues may result in people becoming paralyzed with the fear of being judged by others or thinking they’re somehow to blame for their illness. Having a family member, teacher, neighbor or friend say, “just try harder” or “get over it” doesn’t help. Mental illness is treatable and doesn’t mean that one has failed as a human being. While perhaps not as visible as a cold or a broken leg, mental health issues are diagnosable and treatable. Seeking professional help, understanding the illness and its effects, participating in the prescribed treatment, and educating society about mental health issues removes much of the fear, misunderstanding, and stigma associated with mental illness. A key factor is courage. Through their courage in sharing their stories, celebrities often help us to find our own courage and begin our own recovery.


Sources: Psych Central, National Alliance on Mental Illness, US Weekly Magazine



Advocating for your mental health

advocatingforyourmentalhealthWhen seeking mental health services, there may be some parts of your mental health treatment process that are out of your control; for instance, what your insurance will and will not cover, and your choice of therapists. These realities may cause a number of reactions, including depression and anxiety. Once you decide on a therapist it can sometimes take a few sessions for the two of you to communicate on the same wavelength. If your therapist prescribes medication, a little trial and error may be necessary to get the dosage correct, or to cope with unwanted side effects that the medication may cause.

There is definitely one thing you can control—your role in the process. How? By communicating clearly with your therapist, accepting/understanding your symptoms and educating yourself about your illness, putting your trust in your treatment team and speaking up when you feel uneasy. Becoming your own mental health advocate can build confidence, bring empowerment and help build a better quality of life.

Finding a Therapist

Whether you are looking for a therapist, an entire treatment team or a mental health facility, selecting the right practitioner or counseling group takes time and effort. The key is to ask trusted associates and family, do your research and interview the providers like you are hiring an employee. Remember, you are paying for this service and you expect results. Ask friends who are in therapy if they like their therapists. When you interview a potential therapist, if something about this person makes you feel uneasy, trust your instincts and move on. We know of a couple who sought out a marriage therapist. The counselor was female, wore pink fuzzy slippers during the sessions and had decorated her office with rainbows and unicorns. The husband thought this was “a woman thing” and shrugged it off; the wife felt very uncomfortable and, as a result, didn’t talk at all.

When you are looking for a therapist, make sure you consider their credentials—where they went to school, how long they have been in practice, what they specialize in—as well as their ability to build rapport. Remember, you are paying for this service, so you have to have a good fit. That’s one reason it’s so important to ask people for insight; this includes friends, co-workers or your family doctor. Gender may be a factor in your therapist selection; some men prefer male therapists, some women prefer females, while others don’t care.

In Wichita and Sedgwick County, the Mental Health Association, ComCare or the Medical Society of Sedgwick County are good local resources to consult.

Theoretical Orientation

Psychologists practice a variety of therapeutic methodologies so it is imperative that you choose one who basically thinks the way you do. Some of the methods are:

Acceptance and commitment therapy: This method helps patients become aware of and accept their thoughts and feelings. Through this therapy, patients agree to commit to making changes in themselves and their lives by increasing their ability to cope with and adjust to various situations.

Cognitive behavioral therapy: This type helps to identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones.

Dialectical behavior therapy: With this method, patients learn behavioral skills that help them manage their emotions, improve their relationships with others and deal with stress.

Interpersonal psychotherapy: Utilizing this kind of therapy allows the patient to focus on looking at problems with relationships with other people. Patients learn how to improve interpersonal skills, such as how they relate to colleagues, friends and family.

Psychodynamic and psychoanalysis therapies: These approaches center on increasing your awareness of unconscious thoughts and behaviors. Patients then develop new insights into their motivations and learn how to resolve conflicts.

Supportive psychotherapy: By employing this kind of therapy, patients learn to reinforce their ability to cope with stress and difficult situations.

Your First Appointment

During your first session with your therapist, pay attention to how you feel when you are in the room with them. Is this person really listening to you? Do you feel heard when you talk? This first appointment will give you a good indication of whether you and this person will connect. If you don’t, then find another therapist.

You Know Yourself Best

You probably don’t know everything there is to know about psychology and therapy, but you are the best expert on you.  Thus, you are also the best advocate for your own mental health. If you intend to just nod and say “yes” during your sessions, you’re not doing yourself any good. Interaction and communication are vital in therapy. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, to voice your feelings and thoughts, and try new methods for coping or healing.

Your Treatment Program

You have started therapy, so now what? Here are some questions to ask your therapist:

¨           Do you have a diagnosis for me and what is it?

¨           What are my possible treatments?

¨           Does my treatment include support groups or group therapy?

¨           How long do you expect treatment to take?

¨           Do I need to take medication and if so, what side effects should I be aware of?

¨           Who will monitor my medication management?

There are also a few ways you can monitor your own success. Keeping a sleep or mood journal is one. Be sure to share this with your analyst. Also, take time every day to really wrap your brain around your emotions, write your story, ask yourself difficult and scary questions and ask for feedback from people you love and trust.

One Issue at a Time

Dealing with your mental health can be challenging and exhausting, to say the least.  There may be times when you feel that others are not supportive of you, that seeking therapy services carries a “stigma” or judgment of being unable to cope with life events by yourself.  Discuss this with your counselors; and think about how you feel. If you feel better, are making progress on getting through the issues that brought you to therapy, then limit your interaction with those who are negative or cause you anxiety and frustration. It is extremely important to focus on making one step at a time. Just one. Reward yourself everyday by taking breaks from the process and focusing on whatever brings you joy.

Trusted Resources

When it comes to exploring the internet, remember that anyone can put up a web site.  Seek information from trusted, reliable web sites like The National Institutes for Health; the American Psychological Association; Psych Central; Psychology Today or the Mayo Clinic. If you want to read further about your diagnosis or additional self-help tools, ask your therapist for recommendations.


Sources: Psych Central, Psychology Today, Mayo Clinic

Psychologists and other Professionals help Patients Maintain Long Term Weight Loss

ScalesFrom Medscape:

“Meaningful, Long-term Weight Loss Is Possible: Look AHEAD
Marlene Busko

January 02, 2014

The 8-year weight-loss results from the Look AHEAD: Action for Health in Diabetes study of overweight or obese patients with type 2 diabetes suggest it is possible to lose and keep weight off with a program of intensive lifestyle counseling, researchers report in an article published online January 2 in Obesity.

“The primary finding is that overweight participants with type 2 diabetes could lose weight and were very successful in keeping their weight off at 8 years,” lead author Thomas Wadden, PhD, from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, told Medscape Medical News. This is very different from most previous studies, which report that by 3 to 5 years, most people have regained any lost weight, he added.

In Look AHEAD, at 1 year, 68.0% of participants who received intensive lifestyle counseling vs 13.3% of participants who received usual care lost at least 5% of their initial body weight. At 8 years, these percentages were 50.3% vs 35.7%, respectively. A 5% weight loss can result in significant improvements in type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, depression, and physical functioning, Dr. Wadden noted. It remains to be determined why participants in the usual-care arm continued to lose more weight as time went by, he added.

“This is the largest and longest controlled evaluation of a behavioral weight-loss program to date,” Dr. Wadden said. “I think the study does provide new hope for dieters and practitioners that long-term weight loss is possible with a long-term commitment to meet with a lifestyle counselor.”

Intensive Lifestyle Intervention vs Usual Care

The Look AHEAD researchers enrolled 5145 ethnically diverse overweight or obese adults aged 45 to 76 years who had type 2 diabetes and randomly assigned them to either an intensive behavioral intervention or usual care.

The intervention, adapted from the Diabetes Prevention Program, consisted of frequent group and individual counseling sessions given by a dietician, psychologist, or exercise specialist in the first year, followed by monthly individual counseling in years 2 to 8. Usual care consisted of a limited number of group sessions that provided diabetes support and education.

The trial was stopped in September 2012 after a mean follow-up of 9.6 years, when researchers failed to show that the intervention would reduce the risk for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, the trial’s primary outcome.

On average, participants in the intervention group lost 8.5% of their initial weight at 1 year and 4.7% of their initial weight at 8 years. Participants in the usual-care group lost 0.6% of their initial weight at 1 year and 2.1% of their initial weight at 8 years.

In the intervention arm, about a third of participants (37.7%) lost at least 10% of their initial weight at 1 year, and about 40% of these individuals maintained this weight loss at 8 years.

Some of the weight loss in the trial participants may be a normal part of aging, as the participants were about age 58 years at the start of the trial, the researchers suggest.

Importantly, the trial showed that the individuals who lost the most weight (10% or more) were also more likely to engage in good health practices: to walk most days; eat a lower-calorie, lower-fat diet; and weigh themselves at least weekly.

“This sets a new bar in terms of thinking that you can lose weight, and if you continue to receive some monthly ongoing support, you’ve really got a good shot at keeping the weight off,” Dr. Wadden summarized.

Encouraging, but Will It Work in the “Real World”?

“The lessons learned from Look AHEAD are for the most part quite encouraging,” Michael G. Perri, PhD, from the College of Public Health and Health Professions, University of Florida, Gainesville, writes in an accompanying editorial.

Men and women from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds were able to achieve a meaningful weight loss that was accompanied by improvements in several disease conditions, he notes. This weight-loss success was likely a result of the intensive, comprehensive nature of the lifestyle intervention.

“These positive findings are tempered by the finding that lifestyle participants experienced a regaining of weight despite ongoing care, and a vital question that remains to be addressed is whether the intensive lifestyle intervention delivered in the resource-rich environment of Look AHEAD can be adapted to produce comparable benefits in real-world clinical and community settings,” Dr. Perri observes.

“The intervention potentially could be translated to be a reasonable cost, in much the same way that the Diabetes Prevention Program — the ‘mother’ of Look AHEAD — is being provided in YMCAs,” Dr. Wadden suggested.

Obesity. Published online January 2, 2014. Available at”

What is Cognitive Behavior Therapy

cognitive-behavioral-therapyMany therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists utilize cognitive behavioral therapy when they treat their clients. This is a common type of mental health counseling used to explore inaccurate or negative thinking in order to view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be a very helpful tool in treating many types of mental disorders or illnesses, including anxiety or depression.  Not everyone who benefits from cognitive behavioral therapy has a mental health condition; it can be used to help anyone learn how to better manage stressful life situations. For example, it may help you:

  • Manage symptoms of mental illness, either by itself or with medications, treat a mental illness when medications aren’t recommended, such as during pregnancy, and prevent a relapse of mental illness symptoms;
  • Learn techniques for coping with stressful life situations;
  • Identify ways to manage emotions and resolve relationship conflicts, thereby learning better ways to communicate;
  • Cope with grief or emotional trauma related to abuse or violence;
  • Manage chronic physical symptoms.

Mental health conditions and disorders that may improve with cognitive behavioral therapy include:

  • Sleep disorders
  • Sexual disorders
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Because this therapy explores painful feelings, emotions and experiences, you may feel uncomfortable at times. You may cry, get upset or feel angry during a challenging session, or you may feel physically drained. Some forms of cognitive behavioral therapy, such as exposure therapy, may require you to confront situations you’d rather avoid. This can lead to temporary stress or anxiety.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is done one-on-one or in groups with family members or with people who have similar issues. At your first session, your therapist will gather information about you and determine which concerns you’d like to work on. The therapist will encourage you to talk about your thoughts and feelings and issues that are troubling you. If you find it hard to open up about your feelings initially, don’t give up; give the process a chance—your therapist can help you gain more confidence and comfort.

Cognitive behavioral therapy generally focuses on specific problems, and uses a goal-oriented approach. This may include “homework” — activities, reading or practices that build on what you learn during your regular therapy sessions. Keeping a journal, for example, may be a good way to record thoughts, feelings and behaviors over time.
Cognitive behavioral therapy typically includes these steps:

  • To identify disquieting situations in your life including a medical condition, divorce, grief, anger or symptoms of a mental illness;
  • To become aware of your thoughts, emotions and beliefs about these situations or conditions and share your thoughts about them;
  • To identify negative or inaccurate thinking. To help you recognize patterns of thinking and behavior that may be contributing to your problem, your therapist may ask you to pay attention to your physical, emotional and behavioral responses in different situations;
  • To challenge negative or inaccurate thinking. Your therapist will likely encourage you to ask yourself whether your view of a situation is based on fact or on an inaccurate perception of what’s going on.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is not effective for everyone, but it may teach you how to make life a little easier if you approach therapy as a partnership; if you’re open and honest with your therapist and with yourself; if you stick to your treatment plan, and do your homework between sessions. Therapy is a process that takes time, honest effort and regular evaluation in order to obtain positive results. If your therapist asks you to read, keep a journal or do other activities outside of your regular therapy sessions, follow through with these strategies. You may be surprised at the insight you develop.

Source: Mayo Clinic

High Calorie Food and Tough Times

I notice that a lot of my patients are soothing frayed nerves and unhappiness with over-eating. This just sets up a vicious cycle of shame when the pounds add up on the scale. The following article does a nice job summing up part of the psychology of over-eating in tough times.

Molly Allen, PsyD
Licensed Psychologist

People Seeking High Calorie Foods in Tough Times

How To Manage Stress

Stress.  Just saying the word can induce it. With all the stresses we endure everyday– less sleep, more work, less leisure, raising kids, marriage issues, less exercise, junk/processed foods eaten on the run, traffic jams, flight delays—there’s really no way we can avoid it. According to Dr. Bruce Nystrom, that is not the point. The point is to manage stress. “Stress comes from numerous sources and is present to some degree in almost every situation,” says Nystrom. “You cannot totally avoid stress; rather the goal is to manage stress, keep stress at tolerable levels. Some days you can tolerate more stress than other days, some people are better able to cope with high levels of stress than are others. Because stress tends to arise from change, a life without stress would be boring.  Stress can enliven us, motivate us.  Stress can also make us feel overwhelmed to the point we shutdown.  Again, the goal is to manage stress, to keep stress at tolerable levels.”

So, how do you do that? Friends can be a very powerful stress-buster. Friends will empathize, boost your esteem, share their stories, and help problem-solve. Prayer or meditation may help; releasing your troubles to a “higher” power can provide some emotional distance and breathing room. More coping strategies include the following:

1. Simplify

Cut your to-do list in half. How? Ask yourself this question after every item: Will the world come to an end if this task does not get accomplished?

2. Prioritize

If you have five huge work projects due next week– two synagogue commitments you promised the Rabbi, homework for that online class you’re taking, your parents’ anniversary celebration to plan, and your sister’s computer to fix–what do you do? You list everything on a sheet of paper or on your computer, and you assign each project a number between 1 and 10: 10 being the most important (life threatening) and 1 being the least important (stupid thing I signed up for). Start working on each task you’ve assigned a “10”. If you never get beyond the 8s, that’s okay!

3. Use pencil, not pen

If you live by your to-do list, then start using pencil instead of pen.  This important stress buster is a reminder to try to stay as flexible as you can.

4. Give away your cape

You are not a superhero with superpowers and you cannot accomplish everything. You are a human being like everyone else.  So relax and remember there are only 24 hours in a day and it takes a certain amount of time to get from point A to point B. In your car; not in your batmobile.

5. Collaborate and delegate

There are lots of people out there with to-do lists that look similar to yours. You don’t have to do everything. Delegate. Let someone else do something.

6. Laugh

Remember that old saying, “laughter is the best medicine”? It’s true. Just as chronic and severe stress can damage our body, humor can heal.

7. Exercise

Exercise is a great stress reliever. And no, you don’t have to endure the packed parking lot at the gym or the crowds, either. Take a walk around your neighborhood or go to a park and commune with nature for a while. Take the dog with you for company if you want. It will clear your head and help you feel better. And besides, exercise stimulates brain chemicals that promote the growth of nerve cells. It also increases the activity of serotonin and/or norepinephrine. Plus, a raised heart rate releases endorphins and the hormone ANP, which reduces pain, induces euphoria, and helps control the brain’s response to stress and anxiety.

8. Stop juggling

OK, multi-tasking is inevitable in today’s world. But seriously, do we really have to simultaneously cook dinner, talk to Mom, help with homework, and check e-mail? Leave the juggling to the folks in the circus.

9. Build boundaries

Speaking of activities set some boundaries ASAP– designate a place and time for certain activities so that you are not constantly flitting from one thing to the next.

10. Think

Don’t sweat the small stuff, and most of it is small stuff.

11. Eat right, or at least eat ok

The more stressed you get, the more you crave coffee, doughnuts, pizza and Coke. Allow yourself a treat occasionally, but keep as balanced a diet as much as possible to better manage your stress.

12. Avoid comparisons

The last thing you should do when you’re stressed is to compare what you have with what someone else has. It is pointless and, well, stressful.

13. Avoid negative people

Seriously…why would you want to be around people who sap your energy and make your life toxic?

14. Sleep

A few energy drinks and a double espresso shot will keep you functioning, right? Wrong. Lack of sleep equals lack of brain power. So get your eight hours and don’t feel guilty.

15. Just say no

The world will not come to a screeching halt if you just say no.

16. Learn how to recharge

Take a bubble bath, watch TV, read, work on crafts…learn what helps you recharge your batteries and practice reenergizing every day.

Source: Dr. Bruce Nystrom, Psych Central

Hypnosis for Weight Loss

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Accepting oneself

Body image in Western culture is highly distorted.  Any of us who say that appearance does not count are lying – either to themselves, to the rest of us, or both.  Confronting irrational assumptions about the ‘right’ way to look, and learning to enjoy the body we are in right now is crucial to true happiness.  For more, read on in the link below. - Molly Allen, PsyD

Why Willpower Matters, and How to Get It

Life & style

Willpower is a mental muscle that you can train. Those who do so are more likely to lead happy and successful lives.


Roy Bauermeister

Roy Baumeister … One cake now, or two if you wait? Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

In the smart restaurant of a very smart hotel in the West End of London, Roy F Baumeister, eminent American social psychology professor, orders a lunch of fish and chips, and then decides not to eat the chips. “I won’t eat something that’s not good for me unless it’s absolutely perfect, and it’s going to give me real pleasure,” he says. “I’m afraid … Well, it just didn’t look like these were going to do either.”

What willpower, you might say. You’d be right; the chips looked pretty good. But Baumeister is also, coincidentally, a leading authority on that very subject, and has just published a smash-hit book on it with New York Times science writer John Tierney.

Willpower: Rediscovering Our Greatest Strength distills three decades of academic research (Baumeister’s contribution) into self-control and willpower, which the Florida State University social psychologist bluntly identifies as “the key to success and a happy life”.

The result is also (Tierney’s contribution) readable, accessible and practical. It’s an unusual self-help book, in fact, in that it offers not just advice, tips and insights to help develop, conserve and boost willpower, but grounds them in some science.

Willpower is, Baumeister argues over lunch, “what separates us from the animals. It’s the capacity to restrain our impulses, resist temptation – do what’s right and good for us in the long run, not what we want to do right now. It’s central, in fact, to civilisation.”

The disciplined and dutiful Victorians, all stiff upper lip and lashings of moral fibre, had willpower in spades; as, sadly, did the Nazis, who referred to their evil adventure as the “triumph of will”. In the 60s we thought otherwise: let it all hang out; if it feels good, do it; I’m OK, you’re OK.

But without willpower, it seems, we’re actually rarely OK. In the 60s a sociologist called Walter Mischel was interested in how young children resist instant gratification; he offered them the choice of a marshmallow now, or two if they could wait 15 minutes. Years later, he tracked some of the kids down, and made a startling discovery.

Mischel’s findings have recently been confirmed by a remarkable long-term study in New Zealand, concluded in 2010. For 32 years, starting at birth, a team of international researchers tracked 1,000 people, rating their observed and reported self-control and willpower in a different ways.

What they found was that, even taking into account differences of intelligence, race and social class, those with high self-control – those who, in Mischel’s experiment, held out for two marshmallows later – grew into healthier, happier and wealthier adults.

Those with low willpower, the study discovered, fared less well academically. They were more likely to be in low-paying jobs with few savings, to be overweight, to have drug or alcohol problems, and to have difficulty maintaining stable relationships (many were single parents). They were also nearly four times more likely to have a criminal conviction. “Willpower,” concludes Baumeister, “is one of the most important predictors of success in life.”

So how can we improve ours? Baumeister’s big idea, now borne out by hundreds of ingenious experiments in his and other social psychologists’ labs, is that willpower – the force by which we control and manage our thoughts, impulses and emotions and which helps us persevere with difficult tasks – is actually rather like a kind of moral muscle.

Like a muscle, it can get tired if you overuse it. Exercising willpower, but also making decisions and choices and taking initiatives, all seem to draw on the same well of energy, Baumeister has established. In experiments, he found that straight after accomplishing a task that required them to restrain their impulses (saying no to chocolate biscuits, suppressing their emotions while watching a three-tissue weepy), students were far more likely to underperform at other willpower-related jobs such as squeezing a handgrip or solving a difficult puzzle.

“The immune system also dips into the same pot, which is big, but finite,” says Baumeister, “and, we are pretty sure, so does women’s premenstrual syndrome. Having a cold tends to reduce your self-control, and PMS does the same. We get cranky and irritable, but it’s not that we have nastier impulses – it’s that our usual restraints have become weakened.”

So best avoid trying to do too many things involving mental effort at the same time, or if you’re ill. As with a muscle, though, you can train your willpower. Even small, day-to-day acts of willpower such as maintaining good posture, speaking in complete sentences or using a computer mouse with the other hand, can pay off by reinforcing longer-term self-control in completely unrelated activities, Baumeister has found. People previously told to sit or stand up straight whenever they remembered later performed much better in lab willpower tests.

The final way in which willpower resembles a mental “muscle” is that when its strength is depleted, it can be revived with glucose. Getting a decent night’s sleep and eating well – good, slow-burning fuel – is important in the exercise of willpower, but in times of dire need a quick shot of sugar can, according to Baumeister’s lab tests, make all the difference.

(This is, of course, something of a problem for crash dieters, who basically need to eat in order to summon up the willpower not to eat. Indeed some very strong impulses, such as the behaviour often exhibited by males in possession of an erect penis, can sometimes prove completely resistant to willpower, even after the ingestion of a can of Coca-Cola.)

Baumeister cites a “very impressive demonstration” of the glucose argument: in a study published last year, researchers found that Israeli judges making the difficult and sensitive decision of whether or not to grant parole opted to do so in roughly 65% of cases after lunch, and hardly ever just before.

Baumeister’s top willpower tips: Build up your self-control by exercising it regularly in small ways. Learn to recognise signs that your willpower may be waning. Don’t crash diet. Don’t try to do too much at once. Establish good habits and routines that will take the strain off your willpower. Learn how to draw up an effective to-do list.

Don’t put yourself in temptation’s way, or if you can’t avoid it, make it harder for yourself to succumb. Use your willpower actively: plan, commit, and do so (like members of religious communities) publicly. “People with low willpower,” Baumeister says, “use it to get themselves out of crises. People with high willpower use it not to get themselves into crises.”

Much of this, of course, is in the book. You may even learn how to say no to chips.

How To Avoid Overeating During the Holidays, Part Two

So, you ate way too much on Thanksgiving and now you’re vowing not to do that again. Until Christmas. Or the office party. But, ‘tis the season to overeat, right? Not really. According to Dr. Molly Allen, “The old adage of ‘your eyes are bigger than your stomach’ is true.  We eat too quickly and do not give our stomachs time to give our brains feedback that we are stuffed.” Dr. Allen says, “Almost everyone has experienced the phenomenon of eating a large platter of food, feeling relatively okay while doing so, and then in a few minutes feeling the pain of pushing our stomach volume too much.  That’s the sign that you did not give yourself the time to feel the subtle signs that you were filling up.  Successful ‘dieters’ plan every meal, and pre-set limits on how much they will eat.  No matter how good the food looks, smells, or tastes, if you are trying to lose some weight, maintain a current weight, or eat according to some healthy dietary guidelines, it is usually best to skip the seconds and the nibbling, eat a healthy amount, and then tell yourself that you are done.”

Dr. Allen admits, “There are almost always compromises, acceptable limits on ‘treats’, alternatives, etc. If you’re on a low-fat, low calorie, low-sodium diet, plan how much of the ‘goodies’ you allow yourself, learn to pick the healthier alternatives such as sugar-free, low-fat, low-sodium foods you can have, and learn to celebrate not just with food, but with activities such as a walk to look at holiday lights (yeah! – ‘Illuminations’ at Botanica), buying candles that smell like cookies, and learning to cook your own foods that are healthier.”

“Nobody needs that much food,” adds Dr. Allen, “And there are a plethora of available tools such as smart phone apps that give visual reminders of recommended serving sizes, wallet cards that also give written descriptions of appropriate servings, etc.  If it’s a phenomenon of ‘I paid for an expensive buffet, and I’m going to get my money’s worth’, then it’s important to counter that with, ‘what is my master plan for my health, and is it really worth it to violate the contract I made with myself to eat in moderation’.” But it is the holidays, right? Says Dr. Allen, “Again, I discourage the denial and minimization of ‘it’s just this once, it won’t hurt’.  Instead, a deal is a deal – with a healthy eating plan you are running a marathon, and not a sprint; that means pace yourself, and not indulge in a habit of binge and starve.”

Dr. Bruce Nystrom agrees you need to be your own calorie watchdog. “It’s having the extra desserts laying around, breads, over-eating leftovers, snacks at work, and holiday parties that tend to pack on the pounds,” he says. “You don’t have to eat seconds or thirds of green bean casserole to remember how good it tastes; that’s what your memory is so good at doing. So have a reasonable portion of green bean casserole and let your memory do the rest.”

Dr. Nystrom adds “Don’t be a food martyr…don’t expect sympathy from others when you announce that you can’t eat this or that because of some diet you’re on. Decide to either comply with your good eating lifestyle or not, but don’t feel left out or neglected or abused because you decide not to eat a full piece of pumpkin pie. Instead,” he continues, “feel good about your eating decision as you enjoy a smaller piece of pie.”

Drs. Allen and Nystrom agree that for people who are struggling with developing a better set of coping skills it is a good idea to consider at least a short round of counseling/psychotherapy to help identify problem areas, make a plan to develop some new skills, generate ideas for dealing with stress, and monitor progress in meeting those goals.