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  • Alexa Aronovsky

Moving the goalposts : Hedonic adaption V mindfulness

The problem with dieting

The problem with dieting remains binary - the diet always "starts tomorrow", and when it does it can be nutritionally functional to a goal, yet more often diminutive to a fault. Swept under by guilt and denial, we often play out the unsustainable, testing ourselves for how long we can endure doing without. All too often this is prerequisite for self-sabotaging eating habits. Rather than picking up the pieces and getting back on track, we go off the beaten track altogether. Why is it that when it comes to trying to lose weight, the only constant variables for many are temporary highs, resets, weight fluctuations and guilt?


What is hedonic adaption?

This has got me thinking about a concept known as "hedonic adaptation," a cognitive adaption process where we quickly get used to changes good or bad, and drift back to our original emotive state. A momentary high or low is ultimately taken for granted and we either return to original habits, or we manage down our own expectations entirely in which the goal reached is not good enough, justifying bad habits and making it harder to achieve anything remotely tangible.

Hedonic adaptation is relevant in nutrition because it explains why we constantly move the goal post - how are we ever to reach a goal if the goal itself is forever changing and our minds adapting at the same time? It's power is far more limiting as it may first appear and whilst it may have served us well as a defence mechanism it can in fact slow us down and make us feel far off the quest for self content. We lose five kgs only to then yearn to lose another five, just as the gambler who wins £1000 would risk it all to win more. A lot of this has to do do with the way dieting claims a moral status when health is concerned.


Dieting and morality

In 'How to Eat' Nigella Lawson talks about the idea that foods are either harmful or healing, that a good diet makes a good person who must be lean and fit. We know that eating too much makes us gain weight yet the food morality argument says nothing of why we might eat too much or find it hard to shift or abandon those self sabotaging habits in the first place. Dieting is a multi billion industry that actually needs you to fail to survive-companies promoting the next miracle weight loss fad know the power of mental plateau and cognitive adaption and they can exploit it.


The solution

We are not omnificent when it comes to the changes and stressors that will affect our lives, relationships, etc. What we can control is knowing that if we do fall off the bandwagon we don't have to change the goal and can use the knowledge of hedonic adaption to find equilibrium within our minds and not at polarised ends of spectrum. In doing so, we connect to the feelings we actually experience with eating rather than the ones we're "supposed to feel". Mindfulness is key and can force us to detach morality from nutrition so when we falter and divert from the goal it is not seen as failure and we are not at risk of the setbacks of underlying cognitive processes.


Alexa Aronovsky has a Bsc in psychology. Her key area of interest lies in how behavioural influences and self-imposed limitations impact eating patterns and inhibit weight-loss goals.

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