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Lady Girls’ Weight Loss

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If you think losing weight is harder than the Mensa exam, health researchers have good news: there is an easier way. No starvation required.

Approximately 50 per cent of Australians will have made at least one New Year's resolution, with the most popular one being to lose weight. This statistic, reported by psychology researchers at the University of Sydney, is closely followed by resolutions to stay fit and healthy. Yet, the same research tells us we're finding change too hard.  After two weeks about 75 per cent of New Year's resolutions have been maintained. This reduces to about 64 per cent after one month, and to 46 per cent after six months. Frighteningly, the figures don't waver much from year to year, suggesting that many of us are flogging the same old dead diet horse. Figures show that Australians spend a collective $790 million a year on weight loss efforts, and yet more of us are overweight than ever. Despite wishful thinking, diets and pills don't work. So does it then come down to superhuman willpower? Or is there a pill that will make us wake up and realize we don't like pizza after all? Not exactly. But reality is almost as exciting, proposing a new-evidence based behavioral tactic to push us towards weight loss minus 30-odd foot of grunt.

Approximately 50 per cent of Australians will have made  at least one new  year's resolution, with the most popular one being to lose weight.

Approximately 50 per cent of Australians will have made at least one New Year's resolution, with the most popular one being to lose weight.

What is nudge theory?

Nudge Theory, developed by renowned US economist and behavioral scientist Professor Richard Thaler, is about encouraging or 'nudging' people to make healthier lifestyle choices. Rather than trying to overtly change people's behavior, the idea is to subtly direct people down a particular path by altering their environment. Thaler states that a nudge is "anything that influences our choices". Think a Coles manager shafting Cherry Ripes from the checkouts (we're not saying they would, but go with us on this); this slight nudge in the environment would logically reduce the number of people consuming chocolate by making it more difficult to obtain. The theory goes that by nudging our environments healthier, we can effectively trick ourselves into healthier behaviors, whether trading ice cream for a Granny Smith or walking an extra tram stop. This is one time humans' yen for habit and ritual call it 'laziness' if you will can work in our favor.

How nudges help with weight loss

Nudges have traditionally been used by governments to influence public health. For example, in Stockholm, Volkswagen car manufacturers installed piano stairs alongside subway escalators to encourage people to walk and exercise more. Interestingly, 66 per cent more commuters chose the stairs over the escalators all it took was a nudge, something to make it more appealing to choose the healthier option. And late last year the Aussie government hired a 'nudge theory expert' to come up with innovative ways to direct its citizens. With initiatives like this, it is perhaps no wonder that nudge theory is being called 'fun theory'. Benefits might take some time to reap, however, once achieved these perks are there to stay as your new behaviors become habits and you no longer need that nudge to keep yourself on track.

Nudges have traditionally been used by governments to influence public health.

Nudges have traditionally been used by governments to influence public health.

The kicker is that a nudge needs to be in the background. Research has shown that we are much more likely to maintain healthy behaviors that are our own choice, as opposed to being influenced by others, and if our brains get a sniff of coercion, they may well rebel Supernanny tantrum style. Solution? On an individual level, we can set our nudges to encourage behaviors that move us towards certain outcomes. (Like, say, the 65 kilo mark.)

How to think like a nudge

We have two ways of thinking - an automatic system and a reflective system. Automatic thinking is effortless and tends to govern our unhealthy choices. Just think about how much popcorn you can get through at the cinema  you have the popcorn in front of you and don't have to think about what to eat, when to eat, or even if to eat your hand reaches in, grabs the popcorn, and goes straight up to your mouth without a second thought. Reflective thinking, on the other hand, requires effort and awareness. An example is when you have a celebratory meal to plan and prepare for - you weigh up your choices and consider what everyone will enjoy and whether you can produce the desired result on the day. This slower level thinking gives you chance to implement nudges when and where needed.

This slower level thinking gives you chance to implement nudges when and where needed.

This slower level thinking gives you chance to implement nudges when and where needed.

We all have deeply ingrained unhealthy lifestyle habits that are not easy to change because they are part of our automatic thinking and behavior. To overcome habit-induced barriers to healthy living, reflective thinking is needed. We need to make a conscious effort to do something different, such as eat an extra piece of fruit a day. In other words, nudges make us reflect and think before we act, which is fundamental when on a diet or trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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