Doing For Yourself: Weight Loss & Decision Fatigue

There is a lot to be said for doing things yourself.  The list of things I prefer others to do for me is pretty short and mainly consists of driving places I don’t like to go.  Obviously the more others do for you, the less you do for yourself, but what we forget is how much of the decision-making is out of your control.  When I let someone else do the driving, we leave on their schedule, follow the route they want to take, stop when they want to stop and return when they want to return.  A friend of mine was visiting some long time friends who had moved some distance away and she went along as a passenger with some mutual friends. It was going to take a couple of hours to drive there and since her car is a compact, they all decided to take the bigger car and she would not be driving.  The trip was going great….. until the driver and family decided they wanted to stay much longer than they initially planned on.  As a result, my friend ended up getting home well past midnight (instead of around seven or eight).  She was very tired and fairly concerned about her dog, who had been left inside in the dark, since she’d planned on getting home when it was still daylight (summer time).  She came home to a dark house and a frantic dog who could hardly hold it much longer.  Next time, she vowed she was taking her car and they could meet her there!

This is an example of unintended and unforeseen abdication of control.  My friend was perfectly happy contributing to the gas and letting someone else work the GPS but what she hadn’t intended to give up was the freedom to decide when to leave.  They had agreed to leave at a certain time, but the driver made an ‘executive decision’ and as a passenger, she had no choice in the matter. She was literally along for the ride.

This happens to us whenever we let others do things for us.  We lose our control of the situation and depending on what it is they are doing for us, we might not learn how to do it for ourselves. Being ignorant keeps us under their control too!  Dr. Nowzaradan on My 600 lb Life looks for this controlling mentality in his patients’ enablers.  Some of them are content to keep the patient dependent on them since this dependence gives them control over the patient.  Obviously if you can’t go to the grocery store, you are dependent on someone else to do it for you and you are at their mercy when it comes to what they buy!

I remember one of his patients shopping at a grocery store for the first time.  Although he had a personal care assistant with him, he was essentially on his own in the store, making his own decisions.  As they passed the produce section, he pointed to a fruit and asked his assistant what it was: “That’s a mango?!” It was fairly obvious that there was more than the just the mango that was unfamiliar to him, but he had always had others do things for him and he was reluctant to have to do them for himself. It’s hard learning to do things for yourself.

One of the excuses Dr. Nowzaradan hears a lot is “I have to eat what they bring me.”  While a lot of his patients are either bed-bound or cannot stand long enough to cook for themselves, most of us are not in that situation.  We let someone else make the decision about meals or food and we just accept it, even if pasta or chicken nuggets really aren’t on our meal plan. “Oh, well. It’s what he/she/ they made for dinner!” We are letting them do the planning, preparing and cooking because we don’t want to be bothered with it. When we’re out with friends, they decide on the restaurant because we let them.

There is actually a syndrome called Decision Fatigue.  According to studies, the more decisions we make in a limited amount of time, the more our mental resources are depleted and the worse our decisions become.  The studies theorize this is why we opt for pizza at the end of a long day: our willpower and mental resources are zero so rather than try to get water from a dry well, we choose something ‘easy’ which isn’t the best choice for us!

But we can’t get decision fatigue if we don’t make any decisions! If we let others make all or most of our decisions for us, not only are we at their mercy, we are at the mercy of their decision fatigue! They’ve likely been making decisions all day and they come home to find us waiting for dinner: “I’d like to order a large pizza…..”

If our ability to make decisions is like a muscle, then we need to make sure it doesn’t get flabby.  We also know muscles atrophy when they aren’t used so we need to keep it toned.  That means when our friend asks if we have any preferences about where to go for lunch, we can say “anything but fast food!” That’s a decision, albeit a simple one.  I get that question every time I go out to meet friends: they want to know if I have any thoughts about getting food.  Usually, I don’t so my own decision is along those lines: “anything but sandwiches!” or “I’m open to ABC or XYZ.”  We don’t have to reply with “I wanted a grilled chicken breast with roast red peppers and garlic zucchini noodles.”  You can always ask “what are my options?” or “what did you want?” and go from there!

The other problem that comes with letting others do for you is that you don’t learn how to do it yourself.  As a legal secretary, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to an attorney at another firm whose told me “my assistant is out sick today and I don’t know how to fax something over to you.” You can also substitute “scan” for “fax.”  The idea is the same: as the attorney, they are used to giving the documents to the assistant slash secretary and having them get it filed or transmitted or somehow taken care of and when the assistant is out, the attorney is hobbled. One of mine keeps trying to ‘fax’ on our scanner and doesn’t know how to access the voicemail on our new phone system- I have to keep showing him! While it is beyond annoying to have to stop to show him or fix the scanner, he really gets points for trying to do these on his own.  He doesn’t want to be at the mercy of someone else when it comes to getting things done.

One of the commercials I see a lot is one encouraging parents to teach their children to cook, a very necessary skill! I know there are a lot of parents who don’t do it because they don’t want their kids getting hurt in the kitchen when no one else is home.  It’s a valid fear, but they are also dooming their child to take out and microwave food when they get older. My 27 year old cousin had no idea how to cook anything other than condensed soup and microwave bacon when he moved out.  Seriously, no joke.  Why? Because MOM always cooked for him!

Think about how many decisions we make when it comes to weight loss. We decide what we are going to eat, how much we are going to eat, how often we are going to eat, and in each of those decisions are many little decisions. If we are going to have eggs for breakfast: fried, scrambled, boiled, poached? Quiche or frittata?  with veggies? with crust? with meat or cheese? Do we want anything with the eggs? How many eggs? What about skipping breakfast? What about lunch? With just those two meals alone, it’s easy to see how we can get decision fatigue! But like any muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it gets, and with a little planning, we can learn to skirt decision fatigue. For my part, when I come home, I make sure I have healthy options because I made healthy choices when I wasn’t fatigued.  I don’t have everything planned out for dinner, but I have some salad greens and some healthy protein choices that don’t take a lot of work.

I’d like to say that this came naturally to me, but it didn’t.  It was one of those things I learned on my own, and I learned it because I chose to make my own decisions over and over again at the grocery store. It took some time to try out one choice and try another when that one didn’t work out as well as I wanted.  It was a lot of flexing that decision muscle on a long learning curve.  It took practice to get that planning muscle strong and toned but it was worth the effort! As with any exercise, the more you do it, the easier it gets!

The more we learn to do on our own with shopping, cooking and planning, the more choices we have available to us.  The more we can grow, experiment and find things that work for us and not only with weight loss. When we learn to do things for ourselves, we feel more secure when we let someone else make a decision for us.  If we feel secure with making choices at a fast food restaurant, it’s okay if our family wants fast food for dinner.  We can get them what they want and still get ourselves something that we feel good about too.   It takes practice and it means we have to make a decision for ourselves.  It’s not always easy but like riding a bike, we never forget how to do it, and we’re never just along for ride!

 

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