5 Jedi Mind Tricks to Help Yourself Get Healthy

r2d2_c3p0

“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”

With one sentence and a simple waving of his hand, Obi Wan Kenobi became the coolest guy in the world to 5-year-old Steve.

I couldn’t help but wonder how great it would be to possess the powers of the Force like this Jedi master, getting in or out of situations that I couldn’t normally, simply through the powers of persuasion.

Now, unfortunately the Force has yet to be officially discovered in this Galaxy (or has it?), but it doesn’t mean we can’t actually use Jedi mind tricks on OURSELVES to live healthier lives.

Although you’ll hear everywhere that “eating less and moving more is the key to losing weight,” I would argue that conquering the mental battle before the physical one is the real key to weight loss and healthy living.

Here’s what I mean: our brains are incredible pieces of technology, and they tend to get in the way of our quest to get healthy.  

Whether it’s eating too much accidentally, or tricking ourselves into rationalizing and justifying unhealthy behavior, our brains have the ability to move us towards a better life, or closer to the dark side.

Here are 5 of my favorite tactics you can use to Jedi mind-trick yourself into living better.

Use smaller glasses, plates, and bowls

small plate

Yup, I realize this sounds absolutely crazy.

The problem with that argument is that this actually works.

Back in February I was down in Brazil for Carnival (crossing a few things off the Epic Quest) staying in hotels in a few different spots throughout the country, and realized something peculiar: all of their plates, bowls, and cups were TINY!  They had breakfast buffets, like we do in the US, (with a lot of the same unhealthy foods that we have) but there was a few key differences:

  • The glasses that you could use for drinking juice?  Maybe 4 ounces.
  • The plates to get your food? The size of a side plate.
  • The bowls for cereal?  Smaller than our soup bowls.

Compare this to a typical American setup: massive plates designed to allow you to stack your food sky high, bowls so large you could fit an Ewok in them, and glasses/cups that will hold massive amounts of your favorite beverage.

Right now, you’re thinking “Steve, that’s ridiculous. If they are smaller plates, I’d just get two or make an extra trip.” Or maybe, “Here in America, the plate size doesn’t matter, I eat until I’m full.”

To that, I reply, “OH REALLY FOOL!?” 

It turns out, we are pretty bad at being consciously aware of the food we eat — by simply tinkering with your plate or cup, you will eat more or less and not even know it!

“Prove it, Kamb!” you might be saying.  Sure.

Researchers at Cornell University wanted to test serving size and overconsumption of movie theater popcorn.  They told movie goers they wanted to ask them questions about the m0vie afterwards, and they would be given free popcorn before.  Some people were given a medium or large size tubs of fresh popcorn, while others were given a medium or large size tubs of 14-day old stale popcorn.  What happened?

  • People with large tubs of fresh popcorn ate 45.3% more than people with medium sized tubs.
  • People with large tubs of STALE popcorn? They ate 33.6% more than those with medium sized tubs.

IT WAS 14 DAY OLD POPCORN!!! It looks like size does matter.  If you struggle with portion control, shrink the size of the serving devices you use when feeding yourself.

Not only that, but I believe this study has shown us something else as well:

Practice Mindful Eating

eating and working

Think back to yesterday: how many times did you eat a meal or snack while doing something else?  

I bet it went something like this:

  • Ate breakfast while watching the news and checking email
  • Ate a snack at my desk while checking email and working on a project
  • Ate lunch during a meeting and listened to Jim talk about TPS reports.
  • Ate some candy at Carol’s desk while taking a break
  • Ate dinner in front of the TV watching Duck Dynasty
  • Late night snack while playing Bioshock: Infinite

Notice a pattern?  We have become so indoctrinated with multitasking and doing so many things at once that it’s crept into our eating habits.

Don’t pull a Homer Simpson.

Now, as you’ve seen from the previous research study about mindless eating while at a movie, where moviegoers ate buckets of 14-day old stale popcorn, eating while also performing another task is a great way to overeat yourself to extra calories.

In another experiment, researchers gave soup to two groups of people. The catch? One of the groups’ bowls were secretly being refilled as they ate! The people who ate from the rigged bowls ate 73% more soup, and didn’t rate themselves as being more full! The best part? They didn’t even notice they ate almost twice as much! As the author put it, “In effect, people use their eyes to count calories and not their stomachs.”

Plus, it turns out, distracted eaters actually do consume more calories than people who are focused on eating.  

I challenge you this: today, you are only allowed to EAT.  You cannot “Eat and ________.”

You can have a conversation with the people at your table if you’re eating a meal with your family or friends, but that’s it:

  • No eating at your desk while working.
  • No eating while watching TV.
  • No eating while checking email on your phone.
  • No eating while gaming (besides, you’re mucking up the controller. Stop that!)

If you are going to eat something you need to be focused on JUST EATING.  Think about what you’re putting into your body, and enjoy each bite.

Speaking of bites…

Advanced food tactics

Kiwi

Another batsh** crazy idea that doesn’t make a lot of sense, until you think about it:

According to results published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, chewing food 40 times instead of a typical 15 times caused study participants to eat nearly 12 percent fewer calories.  Now, I take every “study” I read with a major amount of skepticism: after all, I don’t believe there’s any physiological change that results from chewing food more often.

At least not directly.

Instead, I believe this tactic works because it forces you to do a few important things:

  • Enjoy/savor your food.  Rather than engulfing your meal in five minutes and moving on as quickly as possible, you’re actually taking the time to enjoy each bite of it.
  • Eat slowly.  It is said that it takes around 20 minutes or so for our brain to get the message from our stomach that it’s full.  When you eat a meal in five minutes, your brain never gets that message!  If you SLOW down, and lengthen the time it takes you to eat, your brain gets that message sooner and you’ll feel full sooner.

Now, this tactic is predicated on not changing what you eat, but rather the quantity of food you’re consuming.  Although not all calories are created equal, we’re huge fans of small changes, and adjusting quantity of food is a great first step.

Another tactic that works for this?  Putting your fork down between every bite.  A challenge, for sure, but it makes you stop and think, “do I really need to eat this whole thing? Am I full?”

Create a trigger for change

push once

My friend Derek Halpern wanted to kick his horribly addicting soda habit.

Derek is one of the most driven, successful, and intelligent people I know, and yet he couldn’t get healthy.  Sound like anybody you know?  Really smart, but can’t seem to break an unhealthy habit or cycle?

Fortunately for Derek, he’s a student of psychology, and understood the importance of making a trigger for himself.  He simply made one tiny change to his life that lead him to dropping high calorie drinks and losing fifteen pounds.

What was the change?

He put his scale in front of his refrigerator.

Every time he went to the fridge to get another soda, he had a subtle reminder that he was trying to lose weight, and that he probably didn’t need that extra soda.  It reminded him that he was working towards something.

He’d go to open the fridge, see the scale, and ask himself, “do I REALLY need another one?”

What sort of trigger can you add to the habit you’re trying to break or build?  Because we are constructed of our habits, creating a change requires us to be mindful of that habit for the first 30 days or else the habit won’t stick.  We use up willpower when we make a new habit, so we need to be reminded of that habit constantly with a trigger or mental switch of sorts.

I use post-it notes as my triggers. I post them them EVERYWHERE:

  • Bathroom mirrors – “I FLOSS AFTER BRUSHING MY TEETH”
  • Counter tops- “I AM NEVERY LATE TO ANYTHING”
  • Laptop – “I WALK AROUND EVERY 15 MINUTES”
  • Desk – “DO IT NOW”

When I’m building a new habit, I use these post it notes to remind myself of the habit I’m trying to create.

You can do the same: create a reminder (post-it notes, a calendar reminder, an app with pop-up notifications, whatever!) that allows you to stay on target.

Increase the steps between you and a bad habit

steps

This one might be my favorite.

Instead of trying to outsmart yourself with Jedi mind tricks, use your own laziness to your advantage.

A friend of mine felt like he was addicted to television and watched WAY too much of it.

Want to know what his solution was?

He put his TV in his closet.  

When he came home from work and wanted to plop down on the couch to watch some mindless reality show, he had to ask himself: “Do I care enough about this show to get up, open the closet, take out the TV, plug it back in, set it up, and then turn it on?”

For many occasions, the answer to that was “hell no, that’s a lot of work, I’ll just read a book or do ANYTHING ELSE instead.”

If you are trying to break a bad habit, increase the number of steps between you and that task:

  • Don’t keep cookies on the counter. Put them in a container, in the closet, or downstairs.  Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Perform a great purge.  Chuck all of the bad food in your house. Tough to cheat by eating bad foods when you have to get into your car and drive to the store just to get them.  Less willpower required when they’re not in your cabinets!
  • Cancel your cable.  If you want to watch your favorite shows, purchase them for 2 bucks on iTunes or watch on Hulu or Netflix.  Tough to spend extra time watching crappy shows on TV when you are legitimately unable to do so, or have to fork over cash each time!
  • Turn on Self-Control. (or Self-Restraint for PC) Addicted to going to Facebook, Twitter, and Perez Hilton at work?  Being less than productive? Turn on Self-Control so you are locked out of those sites until your work is done.  This is the tactic I’ve used to increase my productivity by 100000% (approximately).

Don’t turn off your targeting computer until you’re ready

xwing

Young Jedi, there are still things you must learn before you can save the Galaxy.

We’re damn smart creatures, and unfortunately we allow our brains to drift when it should be mindful. We allow our brains to rationalize the irrational and justify the unjustifiable.

We need to use our targeting computer during the first month of building a new habit, until that habit becomes automatic and we can turn it off.

For that reason, I recommend only picking one or two tactics from above to implement at once for the next thirty days. REMEMBER: our goal isn’t to drop a bunch of weight quickly and miserably, only to put it all back on two months later.

Our goal is to have life long success, happiness, and bring balance to the Force.

What are your favorite mind-tricks to help keep yourself on task?

Which ones did I miss out on?

Leave a comment with your answers, and may the Force be with you, always.

-Steve

###

mitchToday’s Rebel Hero: Maniacal Mitch from the land down under!!

Running in The Great Tribal Chase around Sydney, Mitch dominated the competition, obliterating the course record by two hours.  Unfortunately, after the race it was determined that his Nerd Fitness shirt qualified as a performance enhancer, and Mitch was disqualified.

Not that I’m surprised, my shirt gave me the power of levitation

Okay, so maybe none of those things happened.

But Mitch did kick some serious ass in the Great Tribal Chase!

Want to be the next Rebel Hero? Take a photo of you doing something epic in your Nerd Fitness gear and send it to contact@nerdfitness.com so we can feature you on the site!

photo source: R2D2 and C3p0, xwing, eating, kiwi, button, stairs

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71 thoughts on “5 Jedi Mind Tricks to Help Yourself Get Healthy

  1. My wife and I where just talking last night about how happy we where that we cancelled cable. We spent so many hours watching shows we never would have given a second thought without cable. We didn’t watch them on Netflix, buy them on DVD, or stream them by any other method. We went from mindlessly flipping through a couple hundred stations every night to watching almost no TV. We spend most our time on OPB (Oregon’s PBS station) and the occasional DVD/Netflix stream.

    Since we made that change we pay more attention to each other and get out and go for walks at night instead of rushing to the glowing box that enslaved us!

  2. I actually have what I consider to be a decent Jedi mind trick. I love watching anime, and, if left unchecked, I’ll watch an entire series in one sitting of sedentary couch time and useless snacking. I’ve now forbidden myself to watch anime unless I do one ten minute workout per episode. It’s a small thing, but it actually helps quite a bit.

  3. I challenge you this: today, you are only allowed to EAT. You cannot “Eat and Read Nerd Fitness.”

    Yup.. Me to… lol

  4. On the same lines as using our laziness against ourselves, when I prepare a meal, I never bring the cooking dishes to the table, instead I prepare the plates in the kitchen and bring them to the table. Its alot easier to resist a second serving when the food is not at arms reach.

    Viva la rebelion!

  5. Psychology is really the root of change for everything in life. I’ve found that to be a good personal trainer (or do anything), you have to influence the individual mentally. You can push them to their limits and force them to go to every workout, but if their mind isn’t in it, relapse is imminent. Especially since you can’t babysit them 24/7.

    I love the concluding statements. Take small steps and don’t expect to change right away. Be conscious of what you do, and remind yourself why you’re doing it.

    Thanks Steve, I needed this.

  6. Thats not fair. Popcorn of any age and staleness is still good with enough butter! Lol

  7. In addition to using smaller plates and bowls, use darker colors. There is an optical illusion that makes food portions look larger when placed on a darker plate. Who knew?!

  8. I’d like to add the somewhat complex concept of overcoming my fear of being hungry. This one is a little bit tricky. I hate feeling hungry (who doesn’t?) so I would almost always eat a little more (and a little more) after I felt full while eating meals because I wanted to avoid hunger pangs between prescribed meals. Now, I thought about it, and realized that hunger pangs are an evolutionary warning that you need to start looking for nutrients, but what if you can become your OWN warning system? Jedi mind trick: tracking my macros and figuring out how much my body needed in order to give enough energy to do the things that I need to do (lift heavy things, dance, play, etc) helped me ignore/override the hunger pang fear! Now, if I plan out my macros for a day, I know for sure that my hunger pangs have less power to influence my eating habits.

  9. Great article! Not everyone can just flip a switch in their mind and change their life immediately. I asked a fitness oriented friend to to consistently remind me and keep me on track. He texts me everyday and we always talk about our fitness goals. I also stopped buying junk food, refuse to drink anything but water(except on drinking days), and always have something planned to keep me busy and curb the snacking. Works alright for me!

  10. I also heard somewhere that blue plates cause people to eat less.. Not sure if it’s true, but wouldn’t hurt to try.

  11. OMG, that egg pic is so funny I almost peed my pants! You are such a goof! Can’t wait for next blog.

  12. Every month I take a picture of myself topless (front, back and side) to track my diet and exercise progress. I won’t lie, one of my goals is to look great naked.

    When I think about eating junk food I think about my next picture. Is eating worth taking a big step backward from my goal?

  13. I love these jedi mind tricks and use a lot of the ones you mentioned! Another one I use: “how long will it take me to work this _____ off?” (insert cookie, chip, cake etc). When I put a snack in terms of workout time it reminds me how quick it is to eat, but how long it takes to work it off. Ugh. It makes me think twice about whether it’s really worth gobbling down.

  14. Same for us! We watch what we really like on hulu or netflix but otherwise we are out and about!

  15. We cancelled our cable in April. Been without any TV for a month now. We read, chat, get things done. I’ve been more pro-active about my photography and my husband with his hobbies. I walk more, run more and I love it!

  16. I love these tips! I’m thinking about doing a 30 day no snooze button challenge, I plan on moving my alarm far, far away from my bed!

  17. I keep my bathroom scales in the kitchen and don’t buy problem foods. If they are not in the house, I cannot eat them. Just need to kick my coffee habit.

  18. Pro: Great advice of making small changes. Every journey begins with a single step.
    Con: Don’t list a program/app for download unless is comes in both flavors (Mac/PC or iPhone/Android). This only leads to frustration for those of us who don’t use Apple products.

  19. Another good one is using your non-dominant hand to eat with – you pay much more attention to how much you’re eating because its harder. Same goes with chopsticks if you aren’t good with them!

  20. I used to drink heaps of coke, but I worked out that the part I liked was the fizz rather than the flavour so I switched to sparkling mineral water.

  21. I’ve eaten most of my home meals on a sandwich/salad sized plate for several years. I now much prefer it. Recently, I was at the Bellagio in Las Vegas with its marvelous buffet. While I allowed myself some extra leeway, I stuck to a pattern: Dinner-sized plate for salad (just greens and raw veggies), salad-sized plate for main course(s). I made a few main-course trips, but I know I took less food on each trip because the plate was smaller.

    I’ve heard the “don’t eat while you do other things” rule for years. I pretty much always eat at my desk with the computer or TV or both on. I’m single, live alone, and simply don’t enjoy meals alone at the table in silence. My compromise is to take only the correctly measured portion into my study. If I want to eat more, I have to get up, go to the kitchen, and measure out another portion. I do know that when I’m not watching things as carefully as I am at the moment and take a whole bag of chips, container of ice cream, or package of cookies into the study, it doesn’t matter what size the package is, it will become a single-serving container.

  22. I firmly advocate the “Increasing Steps” trick. I use this by leaving the power cords to my TV and video storage drive at work. I have to actually ride to work to get these things. It also helps with my debt/ spending as I leave my debit/ credit cards there as well.

  23. phew, your articles are a great encouragement just when I’m
    feeling blahhh you come along with fab encouragement at the right time, thank you

  24. Haha, I’ve been using the bigger forks and smaller plates thing for months and I can say the frequency of eating more than you’d need is definitely reduced.
    Also, while I usually have something running in the background when I’m eating it’s really just background noise. Focussing on something else with tasty food in front of you being very hard is also a factor in the equation I’d reckon, haha.
    I guess I’ve also been using Steve’s favorite for some time, haha. I always put my food into tupperware boxes and into the fridge after putting the portion on my plate because I can’t stand things stockpiling in the sink (generally messy kitchens).

  25. Yep, I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that the colour blue supposed to be an appetite suppressant?

    In addition to using the smaller plates/bowls/cups, also use teaspoons to eat dessert instead of dessert spoons. You do actually eat much less.

  26. Hi Steve! This is one of my favorite articles of yours! Awesome job and thanks so much for all you do for us!!!! 🙂

  27. In addition to the blue plates place a blue light bulb in the fridge, purple is also an appetite suppressor. The reason is, with only a few exceptions, these colors are not found in our normal food chain, thus we are not conditioned to want to eat them. By having the colors around our normal food it reflects the hue on to them making them seem less desirable.

  28. Hi Steve,

    I actually used the Jerry Seinfeld productivity system on Lifehacker to build my gyming habit. It is a simple system with a calender that you put on a wall and strike off a day each time you completed the minimum for the day. After I built the habit, I was amazed at how I kept focusing on the habit, trying to get better all the time. That was how I stumbled upon your blog.

    Great advice and great motivation. Keep it up.

  29. Lol, yep. Here too. Dark Chocolate espresso beans are going back into the high cupboard in the kitchen instead of my nightstand drawer. Right now.

  30. I have a similar trick for reading.

    I recently found myself locked in my room on the third day of a reading binge (A Game of Thrones) only to emerge to total devastation… My house was a disaster, there was no food, my children were dirty and looked wild, I had skipped a class… lol.

    I have turned reading into my reward. No reading until bedtime and only if I have accomplished my goals for the day and I set an alarm that means I have to put it down and go to sleep. So far, it works.

  31. why on earth would you keep coffee beans by your bed?! It doesn’t make sense having a wake-up substance next to a place where you go to sleep…

  32. I have four kids and I work from home. My bedroom is often my place to escape for a few minutes during the day, and if I don’t want the kids to get into them I have to keep them somewhere where they won’t find them. I don’t use them as a wake up substance, I use them as an occasional sweet treat because 23 of those suckers is one serving and it takes me about five days to be able to eat 23 of them!

  33. Post it notes FTW. I don’t even need specific goals on them, I just write one word and post it all over the place: “Discipline”. It works like a charm. I even put one on my steering wheel to help me remember that I will feel worse after buying junk food at a gas station, even if I really do want something on the way home from work.

  34. As other commenters have also admitted, I happened to be eating while I read this at work. Not a great start.

    Great article! As a student of psychology myself, I have implemented some of these techniques before, and much to my amazement, they do indeed work! Mindful eating is definitely something I need to work on.

    Following along with your “Increase the steps between you and a bad habit” tip, I actually do not purchase any snack foods anymore unless I plan on immediately eating them. Perhaps it doesn’t sound intuitive, but because I never have anything lying around the house, I actually eat enormously fewer snack foods. I rarely want snack foods while I’m actually grocery shopping; usually when it’s 10 pm and I have a craving. I know I’m way too lazy to actually venture out to the store to buy something, so I just have a glass of water or an apple instead. It works!

    Thanks for all the great advice Steve!

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