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Try, try again? | Manolo for the Big Girl

Try, try again?

Francesca always finds it interesting when live-able ideas about weight loss and fitness make their way into unexpected places, such as this article from the Business section of the New York Times. It is about the concept of quitting: when one should do it, and how.

Professor Miller and his colleagues have followed college students, older people and the parents of children with cancer and found that, in many cases, moving from a difficult goal to another, more attainable, one can create a greater sense of well-being, both mentally and physically.

In the September issue of the journal Psychological Science, Professor Miller, along with Carsten Wrosch, associate professor of psychology at Concordia University, reported that they had followed 90 teenagers for one year. The study found those who could not renounce hard-to-attain goals showed increased levels of the inflammatory molecule C-reactive protein, which is linked to such health problems as heart disease, diabetes and early aging in adults.

The goals, chosen by the participants in the subject, tended to revolve around academic success or body image, Professor Miller said.

The difficulty lies in knowing when to abandon one goal and move on to something else.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Professor Miller said. “How do you draw the line between what’s attainable and what’s not?”

Professor Miller is not advocating forsaking your dreams, just shifting to those that may be more manageable. In particular, studies of older people found that they were happier if they found new goals to pursue once giving up on the old ones, in contrast with those who abandoned their previous aims without substituting anything new.

We have to realize, he said, that “this relentless pursuit of goals has a cost to it.”

Kathleen D. Vohs, a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, has also studied the issue, largely in relation to people who regularly overspend and to chronic dieters. She said that people need internal resources to attain their goals, and “if you are a pursuing a goal that is constantly frustrating, you will be less successful in goal attainment in other areas of life.

“One of the most frustrating goals for people is weight loss or weight loss maintenance,” Professor Vohs said. So if a person concentrates on that goal, she may have fewer internal resources to deal with other challenging situations in life, like a demanding boss or an angry spouse.

The answer, Professor Vohs said, is perhaps “stepping back temporarily and saying, ‘I’m going to try to live a healthy life and not try so hard to lose weight.’ ”

Francesca always appreciates it when someone points out that “losing weight” and “living a healthy life” are NOT synonymous. One can eat healthy foods in moderation, and exercise, and still be fat. And one can be thin on cigarettes and celery (or cancer).

But the part Francesca found new and interesting was this:

 . . . those who could not renounce hard-to-attain goals showed increased levels of the inflammatory molecule C-reactive protein, which is linked to such health problems as heart disease, diabetes and early aging in adults.

. . . So, what we are saying is that being overweight is a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease . . . but so is constantly trying to lose weight without success.

Food for thought. Pun intended.

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