Okay, Summer's over, the nights are fair drawing in and work's on a mad rush before Christmas. Things are hectic. Getting out of bed in the dark is hard work. Going out for a run in the cold is hard work. Resisting that chocolate biscuit is a real challenge. This is the time of year when the lure of the armchair is strong. This is the time of year when my will power has its work cut out.
I've blogged before about will power; it's like a muscle, you can train it and strengthen it, but if pushed too hard it can get worn out. By the time I get home from work, my will power runs at a peep. That's when I get my reward for getting through the day (and they do say will power is linked to low blood sugar levels). On good days or when the wind allows, my reward might be a run, or in the summer we go for a walk. But on the bad days, especially the cold, dark, wet winter evenings, my attention turns to cake or a slice of toast (or maybe even a glass of wine!).
So I was intrigued to hear about some research (scroll down a bit) about how we might be helped to cope when our willpower tank is running on empty. Psychologists in Aberdeen stuck signs in coffee shops giving calorie counts for different food choices. These are organised from the lowest calorie options on the left to the highest calorie ones on the right. Next to it is a little note saying that if you want to eat fewer calories then you might want to think about picking something from the left hand side. A little reminder, a helping hand. Not a fact, not a lecture, just a little helpful reminder - a nudge. They picked left to right as apparently we have a small bias to things we see on our left so pay attention to the left (hmm I wonder if that works if your writing goes the other way...).
Anyway, sales of high calorie foods dropped and sales of about half (not all) of the low calorie foods increased. There was a shift from high calorie to low calorie options - a black coffee instead of that latte. And even more interestingly, when they asked customers what they thought, the ones who scored lowest on will power were more likely to change what they bought and many went for the lower calorie option. Hurray! A win for us, a win for researchers and a blow to obesity!
But never, ever underestimate the ability of us humans to do the unexpected. The researchers found that some people just swopped one high calorie option for another. Instead of having that latte they had 3 chocolate bars - the same number of calories, the same unhealthy options. They were all women. They were probably calorie counting and this was their treat. I think that's fair enough.
There's no doubt that with our busy lives, worry and stress pull us in a whole load of directions. In winter it can all be a little bit harder. There's a lot of reasons given for the rise in obesity and I do wonder if our busy lives, lack of time and our many responsibilities drain our will power even more than in the past. Plus we have more temptations and choices and it's all too easy to go for the comforting treat. I don't think we suddenly have more lazy people in the world; none of the overweight people I know could be ever be seen as lazy. Busy? Juggling like mad? Yes! Lazy? Definitely not.
I know my will power varies a lot and not always predictably. A run can fire me up making me feel strong and healthy and I really (really) don't want to eat chocolate. But the next run really deserves that cake! An extra pound on the scales can set me back on track with vigour or send me straight to the biscuit tin with depression. I know when I was caring for Mum on top of a busy job I couldn't resist the chocolate treats I bought her to encourage her to eat something.
So if the researchers can come up with something that helps us remember that we do have a choice and makes us think for just a moment, then I think that's brilliant. A little note so we think twice before reaching for that bun when we're on autopilot and making lists about lists in our heads. It's not a nag. It's not a lecture. It's a helpful reminder for busy people with busy lives.
Talking of which, I've had another reminder this week. I've been in serious running mode. Despite the weather, I've wanted to run every day and do hills and tempo runs and just run and run. But on Wednesday I got a twinge in the area of my calf where I had an injury. So I've made myself do an easy run and take 2 rest days, even though the sun's been shining and I could have run (grrr). Half of me feels like a sulky teenager, the other half feels strong and sensible. I still did 4 runs, 25 plus miles. I feel good!
The Chi running is really helping me in so many ways, including my tendency to over do things. I wonder if it can help me sort out my tendency to overeat!
Hope you've had a good week. Take care