Resolving to Escape the McVictim Syndrome

December 29, 2010 in Diabetic Menu Item, Health, Psychology of Food, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, that song was actually designed for last week, but the holiday greetings, parties for hosting, and happy meetings are still going on this week – and it seems as though they all involve eating. Our minds may perceive the reality of the extra calories, calories that sneak in and overwhelm our best resolve. We may be feeling a need to think of new resolutions. With the beginning of a New Year approaching, I thought that I’d discuss some articles that have touched my need constantly to stay focused on a healthy diet.

During the past week three excellent articles have reminded me of practices that I use and, in addition, have suggested some new techniques to add to my repertoire of eating behavior skills. Certainly eating and exercise behaviors are not the only resolutions, but they are among the most common. Some people have stopped making resolutions, because they don’t want to fail yet again, so this post is designed to help you move forward successfully and give you some ideas for doing so.

1.)   The first article appeared in the December 22, 2010 Wall Street Journal by Sue Shellenbarger. She has titled her article “How to Keep a Resolution; Forget Willpower, Reaching a Goal Means Retraining Brain to Form New Habits.” In short, she says that most people rely on willpower and that willpower rises from a part of the brain that is easily overloaded and exhausted. What, says she, works far better than willpower? Training other parts of the brain works better. These other parts are responsible for linking positive emotions to new habits and then conditioning yourself to the new behaviors.

She explains research by Baba Shiv, a Stanford University specialist in neuroeconomics, who says that in just deciding to change your behavior, life events stress us and we are likely to succumb to an emotional desire for instant gratification. To counteract that problem, professor Shiv suggests that if you really want to keep a resolution, use strategies that will increase your success.

a.     Have a detailed plan

Another professor, Mary Dykstra, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, coaches people to set specific, realistic goals, then to break each goal into small, measurable steps, with a timetable.

When I used to counsel morbidly obese patients, I used to spend lots of time trying to help patients avoid big goals like, “I will lose 50 pounds, in a short length of time.” Just focusing on the desired weight loss, especially if it is unrealistic, is a huge set up for failure. But I would encourage them to take small steps that would get them to their ultimate goal – the weight loss. The type of goals that I would encourage them to make were like the following:

I will get my walking shoes in my car so I can take a lunch break walk.

I will clean the junk food, that has so much power over me, out of my pantry, car, desk drawer, and so on.

I will go shopping and fill the shelves with the foods that will support my goals (e.g., it’s difficult to make a salad if there is no lettuce or fixin’s in the fridge.

I will set the alarm in time to pack my lunch so I won’t be faced with a fast food lunch. Also, to give myself enough time to eat breakfast so I won’t be tempted with an office donut (or the equivalent).

i.     Plan emotional rewards when attainable milestones are reached

Rewarding yourself when you succeed, helps bring your success to your mind. After a recent weight loss I treated myself to a couple pair of jeans in a smaller size – it reminds me how much better I feel and helps me to continue with the focus on maintaining the skills that got me to the lower weight.

ii.     Focus most of the time on the emotional rewards you will reap for changing your behavior.

1.     Visualize yourself feeling the benefits

a.     “If I work hard, I will look so good, and feel so good”

iii.     Plan strategies when there are setbacks.

1.     Experiencing a small weight gain, so often encourages people to give up. This is so sad, because often a large part of the weight gain is water weight and will come off when the person returns to the behaviors that support weight loss.

2.     I believe that one of the very most important skills is to recognize what doesn’t work and immediately go back to the plan. Don’t say, “It’s over,” throw up your hands and order a pizza with extra cheese. Sticking with it will eventually pay off with that glorious feeling of success.

iv.     Start planning before your projected ‘start date’

I like a quote by John Norcross, a psychology professor at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. Sue Shellenbarger includes it in her article: “Keeping a resolution isn’t a 100-yard dash. It’s a marathon.” I know that it is very popular to offer ‘overnight’ weight loss to the general public, but as we have written many times, learning the make changes that stick is the way to end the vicious merry-go-round of on and off diets that lead to the roller coaster of up and down weight.

Sue Shellenbarger also reports on a lady in Gilbert, Arizona, Tomo Jahn, who has lost 37 pounds since August, partially by keeping a food journal. It helped her to pay attention to food choices. She used the journal, along with her personal trainer to become accountable. She would confront her choices and learn to pick better foods – it soon became a habit. That is a well-proven and very helpful technique. Keeping records has helped so many patients that didn’t know why they were having so much trouble with weight management.

2.)   The second article was written by Jen Nash, who has a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology; the title of her article is: No One (Even You!) Lacks Motivation.

Dr. Nash points out that when we’re doing fun activities, the concept of motivation does not enter our minds. But when we’re doing health-promoting activities such as exercise and healthy eating, we seen to have to force ourselves to do it. She illustrates this point with the choice, “Do I go to the gym in the evening or curl up on the sofa watching TV?” We may feel that we have to force ourselves to go to the gym, but curling up on the sofa to watch TV takes no effort.

Dr. Nash suggests techniques that link the health-promoting activities with the fun activities:

a.     The secret with motivation is to link the activity that feels like a challenge with one that feels easy; for example, plan your exercise so watching your favorite TV show immediately follows it. She says, that by pairing the “not so fun” with the “fun,” you’ll reward yourself today, while building up health and vitality for the future.

One technique that I have used for years is to read while tread milling. I’ve talked to many people who can’t do that, but then maybe they could try my old technique: watching TV while tread milling. If your eyes are tired, watching TV may be easier than reading while walking. The trick is really to find what works for you – something that you enjoy. One of my friends records TV shows on Tivo and watches them while on the treadmill and another listens to music.

3.)   The third article that captured my attention was written by David Gratzer, published in the L.A. Times, on December 8, 2010.  It is titled; The McVictim syndrome could kill us – Americans want to blame others for the obesity epidemic. The truth? It’s our own fault.

This article is more about stopping our litany of excuses than it is about motivation. It is a great concept that needs to be confronted if we are to remove barriers to healthy resolves this year. David Gratzer, a physician and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute makes a sensible argument about America’s emerging preventable disease crisis – obesity. I like his term, “McVictimization.” To see ourselves as a victim of fast food, unhealthy food gets us thinking that obesity is someone else’s fault – and therefore, someone else’s problem to solve. He brings us to the realization that “obesity is a human threat, destroying otherwise healthy lives and increasing personal health costs, all for the sake of a few daily moments of instant gratification.” In his article he slams quack drugs, crash diets and the government’s subsidy of agribusinesses which makes it very profitable to market unhealthful foods. Controlling these three drivers of obesity can lead toward a solution.  Controlling these three drivers of overeating is part of the Dr. Grandma’s position. Gratzer further states that it is absurd to pretend that Americans are helpless to make a choice of better health habits – or that it is too late for them to reap the benefits. He cites the American College of Cardiology that found that obese patients on a program of mild weight loss and modest exercise cut their odds of getting diabetes by as much as 60%. He then asked us to imagine the benefits of that huge reduction of risk. He ended his article by saying that the first step in ending the McVictim culture is to reject the temptation to find an easy scapegoat.

Instead of moping around with our poor victims heads held low, let’s get excited about taking charge of our health and ourselves. Genes have not changed that much in 50 years; but changes in our life-styles, including long hours of TV, internet, and video games; the amount and availability of processed foods; the ubiquitous availability of food at every shop counter, business office and gas station; and, of course, the “McVictim” explanations of obesity have led many of us to an unhealthy place. Maybe confronting this type of thinking will help us to motivate ourselves to move toward health. Remember the story of Tony Posnanski – see The Boring Tortoise Technique, Tony did it and you can too. What a great model for us to resolve to make the coming New Year the most wonderful time of year!!!

We at Dr. Grandma’s send our very best wishes for a Healthy and Happy New Year.

Chickpea, Kale and Wheat Berry Soup

I was thinking about another quick holiday week dinner and WebMD inspired this soup. I highly recommend the feta and tomatoes; the flavor is lovely.

A cup of the cruciferous vegetable kale has about 36 calories and 5 grams of fiber – what a bargain; it’s loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytonutrients (plant nutrients). Kale is a super food to supply the nutrients, which are in shorter supply in the winter.


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 cup, yellow onion, chopped

2 teaspoons garlic, minced

½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

1 tsp. dried Italian herbs

1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

2 cups cooked wheat berries

6 cups kale, chopped (stems chopped separately)

8 cups low sodium vegetable or chicken broth

Feta cheese (for garnish)

Cherry tomatoes (for garnish)


If you have cooked frozen wheat berries, remove 2 cups from the freezer. If you don’t have cooked wheat berries, cook 1 and ¼ cup raw wheat berries in 3 cups water for about an hour to 1¼ hour, until desired tenderness. It is really nice to have them in the freezer, so double or triple the wheat berry cooking, and then you’ll be ready for the next recipe.

In a large pot, heat the oil and add the onion; brown gently until onions are turning clear.  Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and Italian herbs and stir for 2 minutes.  Cut the stems off the kale leaves; chop the stems in ¼ to ½ pieces.  Stack the leaves and slice into 1-inch pieces. Add the chickpeas, kale stems and the wheat berries and heat until hot. Add the kale leaves, and stir well to combine.  Add the broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and allow the soup to simmer for about 15-20.

Stir the wheat berries to the top and serve in bowls with a crumble of cheese and a few cherry tomatoes.

Rinse off the fresh kale.

Brown the onions.Defrost the wheat berries.

Sprinkle pepper flakes on simmering ingredients.

Add the coarsely chopped kale.

Simmer until kale is tender.

Sprinkle with feta and tomatoes - Yum!