Rule #6: Eliminate Excessive Choices

torah-scrollAs I continue my march through Joel Harper’s “Ten Rules that Fit People Follow,” examining each rule in the light of biblical teaching, I find myself arrived at rule #6. (You can read my musings on rule #5 and before here.) The sixth rule is “Eliminate excessive choices,” which is described as follows:

Chocolate croissant or steel cut oats? Grilled salmon or a quesadilla? When you have to make these types of dietary decisions all day long, you may end up exhausting your willpower. Planning your meals in advance, however—even just one meal per day—can make it easier (and less stressful) to eat healthy.

My initial reaction to this rule is that it is nonsense. Do people who plan their meals in advance actually eliminate any choices? I’d argue that as a ‘no.’ They move the choices to a different time, but they don’t eliminate anything.

On the other hand, I think there is something to be said for actual elimination of choices. Think of what Jesus said to the rich young ruler: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” This young man went away from Jesus sad. Why? He couldn’t let go of his wealth. Wealth, you see, indicates choice.

When I receive a pay check, I send a text that initiates a gift for 10% of that check to my church. Do I have to give that tithe on the first day I receive the payment? No, but by doing so, I eliminate the choice and thus the temptation not to give it. In fact, if my pay came in consistently, I’d set the thing up to go automatically twice a month.

In reality, I think that this rule should be “Surrender your will to God’s will.” Was there ever a better example of that than when Jesus willingly allowed Himself to be arrested, tortured, tried, tortured again, and then murdered? If I could demonstrate that level of surrender, then I could easily choose the oats over the croissant.

The problem, I think, with Harper’s rule is that his elimination of choice is an illusion. If I eat the grilled salmon, I can easily enough opt to eat the quesadilla later in the evening or allow my wife to talk me into ice cream.

This so-called elimination of choices is actually just an exercise in reinforcing will power, but humans have shown for millennia that we’re not particularly good at will power. Surrender, on the other hand, takes will power off the table.


Dispatches from the Diet Lab

Belly FatHow would you like to spend your career studying diets and why they do or don’t work? That’s what Dr. Traci Mann does, and now she’s written a book about the experience.

Secrets from the Eating Lab shares many of Mann’s findings–which is that, by and large, diets don’t work–and then provides some advice on what to do instead of dieting. A reviewer from NPR shares these observations on Mann’s work.

Diets don’t work for a variety of reasons, from biology to psychology. Mann points the finger, first and foremost, at human biology. “Genes,” she writes, “play an indisputable role in regulating an individual’s weight: Most of us have a genetically set weight range. When we try to live above or below that range, our body struggles mightily to adapt.”

That sounds great, but I have a couple of quibbles with Mann’s conclusions. First of all, given the recent increase in obesity in the United States, is Dr. Mann suggesting that we have witnessed a monumental shift in human genetics? Second, just how wide is that range that she mentions? Is it a 5-pound range or a 50-pound range? That would seem to make a huge difference.

Beyond that, Mann goes to the brain, which (at least according to the reviewer) apparently is not a biological organ.

Second to biology, Mann blames a combination of neuroscience and psychology. Our brains are hardwired to want food for survival, she explains, so restricting calories creates a psychological stress response, which facilitates weight gain, not loss. Also, she adds: “Studies show that willpower, the thing we all blame ourselves for not having enough of, is in many ways a mythical quality and certainly not something that can be relied upon for weight loss.”

Again, I have to ask for some quantification. How much of a reduction in calories do we need before that “psychological stress response” kicks in? And this idea that willpower is a myth would seem to suggest that everybody ought to weigh 400 pounds.

Of course the problem with studying diets lies in defining just what qualifies as a diet. When Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonalds food for 30 days, that was a diet. So was what I ate when I weighed 55 pounds more than today. At what point does a change of eating habits qualify as a “diet”?

What this book seems to ignore is the spiritual aspect of dieting. When we see ourselves as belonging to ourselves, then we’re pretty much reduced to some sort of inwardly based motivation. When we see ourselves belonging to the creator of the universe, then there’s help and hope for a healthier future.