Sunday, 27 January 2013

Powers of contemplation

The Spirit of Contemplation by Albert Toft.
from Wikipedia

The Association For Psychological Science has a piece on the health benefits of contemplation.

Most dieticians will tell us that the first step in achieving a healthy body weight is buying a good bathroom scale. The second is using it, regularly. Knowing our weight keeps us honest, and this basic bit of information is a key motivator for the nutrition and exercise changes needed to stay fit over the long haul. And it’s simple and effortless.

Except that it’s not. Many people do not have a scale, and what’s more, do not want one. Or if they have one, they never use it.

Researchers claim to have demonstrated that if we have a treatable health condition, then a contemplative approach may reduce the likelihood of avoidance or denial.

Two psychological scientists at the University of Florida believe they may have an answer. Jennifer Howell and James Shepperd thought that it might be possible to shift people’s focus from the immediate emotional threat—the threat to positive self-image—to a more detached and deliberative analysis of their motives and actions and health. They wanted to see if they could get people to think about their own thinking—why they should want to know this information, and why they might want to hide from it. They call this cognitive state “contemplation,” and they’ve begun exploring its potential for healthy decision making.

Sounds more like honesty to me, but the overall conclusion is certainly consistent with what my wife and I have experienced. We weigh ourselves regularly, do not diet, but do not have weight issues either. My waist measurement is the same as it was when we got married nearly forty years ago. 

I tend to assume that simply knowing my weight and having a rough idea of how many calories there are in food controls my appetite without much conscious effort on my part. I don't need to follow a diet. Mind you, regular walking and an advantageous metabolism may play a part too.

However, an obvious but unexplored aspect of this research is what the researchers describe as the emotional threat of personal health issues. Supposedly it prevents many of us from seeking factual information about our health.

Fair enough, it's an explanation, but surely our government is by far the biggest sponsor of emotional health threats in the UK?

Dear me - could they possibly have made a mistake here? Because on the basis of this research one might assume that decades of largely threat-based health propaganda may have contributed to the so-called obesity epidemic. Not only that, but more threats won't improve the situation.

What could possibly go wrong?


Anonymous said...

The use of 'issues' as a noun still grates on my ear - I'm sure I will get used to it eventually.

Contemplation and the contemplative life always seems a bit passive to me, one small step away from sleep. I rather prefer the idea of 'wrangler' - "go and do some wrangling Mr Jones, that will get your weight down".

Looking round the supermarket I don't reckon scale hopping is the answer and IMHO it is too easy to be glib about fat people. More contemplation (or silence) from the smart-arses perhaps?

Demetrius said...

Cogito ergo sum?

Electro-Kevin said...


"I contracted obesity. They haven't developed the vaccination for it yet."

A K Haart said...

Roger - glibness may well be a problem if hectoring people can have a negative effect - as this research seems to show.

Demetrius - yes, although I don't know why he thought he needed to work it out that way.

EK - maybe they will.