It seems that no matter what age we are, whether it be an angsty teen trying to fit in or a new parent trying to keep their fitness with the stress of a newborn, we are always trying to achieve the ‘ideal’ body. This unattainable ‘ideal’ form that surrounds us through social media and advertisements is always focused on body weight. Instagram feeds are flooded with trainers and fitness influencers promoting the newest product that will make weight loss easy.
However, there are less expensive things you can do to lose weight than buying hundreds of dollars worth of protein powder. In a study called “Why is it so hard to change? The role of self‐integrity threat and affirmation in weight loss” Dr. Elizabeth Page-Gould studied whether self-integrity threat contributes to issues of weight and behavior change.
For a little background, self-integrity threat is “a phenomenal experience of the self … as adaptively and morally adequate, that is, competent, good, coherent, unitary, stable, capable of free choice, capable of controlling important outcomes” (Steele, 1988, p. 262). Self-integrity threat can apply to many parts of your life as seen in the diagram below from Steele, 1988.
In her research this past year, Dr. Elizabeth Page-Gould was looking at how affirmative values can affect weight loss. In the study weight-dissatisfied women, entered the study said to be about values and health and were split into two conditions. One condition completed a value affirmation manipulation and the other was the control. Participants also completed a food questionnaire, an exercise measure and a physical measurement to record weight loss. The results showed that patients with the value affirmation manipulation lost more weight than the participants in the control. This make sense because the affirmative values group also reported more exercise and eating healthier than the control group two months later when they returned to the lab.
These results demonstrate that one of the keys to being healthy is having the confidence and passion in other aspects of your life. When looking at Dr. Page-Gould’s research I thought about the reward pathway in the brain that I have researched for this class and how people become addicted to drugs. To a much lesser extent food can act as a type of drug when trying to cope with negative thoughts about your body. Eating foods with high sugar and fat content can lead to the production of dopamine. This dopamine, which is produced in the midbrain, is released to the reward circuit and tells various parts of the brain that this was a good experience and would want it to happen again. Below there is a diagram and list of sections of the brain effected by the reward circuit.
- The Amygdala which is responsible for emotions says “I enjoyed this feeling”
- The Hippocampus which is responsible for memory says “I like this feeling so I will remember the feeling of pleasure so it can be repeated”
- The Prefrontal Cortex which is responsible for attention and planning says “ I will remember the surrounding so I an repeat this feeling of pleasure”
- The Nucleus Accumbens in change of the body’s motor functions says “I will focus on on the physical actions of repeating this feeling of pleasure”
If you want to learn more about to reward system go watch this video!
The activation of these parts of the brain through the reward system pathway tells our body we want to eat these sugary and fatty foods again. Although it was not discussed in Dr. Page-Gould’s article I wonder if the affirmation sessions could lead to the release of dopamine and therefore you feel less of a desire to find other forms of pleasure such as food.
Keep this in mind the next time you are trying to lose a few pounds. You don’t have to go looking for a new diet that will magically make you loose weight but rather think positively and be confident. With this mindset, exercise and eating healthier the weight loss will come! Weight loss programs and websites have even started to see this trend by talking about confidence working on your self-esteem such as verywell fit.
So next time you see influencers on Instagram pushing a new expensive product just look in the mirror and give yourself a confidence boost instead!
Logel, C., Hall, W., Page, G. E., & Cohen, G. L. (2019). Why is it so hard to change? The role of self‐integrity threat and affirmation in weight loss. European Journal of Social Psychology, 49(4), 748–759. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.2536
Sherman, D. K., & Cohen, G. L. (2006). The psychology of self‐defense: Self‐affirmation theory. Advances in experimental social psychology, 38, 183-242.
Spencer, S. J., Josephs, R. A., & Steele, C. M. (1993). Low self-esteem: The uphill struggle for self-integrity. In Self-Esteem (pp. 21-36). Springer, Boston, MA.
Steele, C. M. (1988). The psychology of self-affirmation: Sustaining the integrity of the self. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 21, pp. 261–302). New York: Academic Press.