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How to Motivate Healthy Habits: An Interview with Dan Ariely

Behavioral economist and best-selling author Dan Ariely shares his research on what really motivates people to make positive changes and how a scale that doesn't show your weight can help you slim down.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
January 16, 2018
Episode #461

dan ariely books

Our theme all this month is Healthy Habits and this week I spoke with behavioral economist and author Dan Ariely. He’s written several books including his 2008 bestseller Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions and his more recent title Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter. Dan Ariely teaches at Duke University and he’s the founder of the Center for Advanced Hindsight. (Get it?)

Dan has spent his career trying to understand (and explain to the rest of us) why we make choices that are clearly not in our best interest. Things like buying lottery tickets and selling stocks when they lose value and, of course, eating things that we know are going to keep us from looking and feeling the way we want to.

And, in fact, his latest project is one that focuses on helping people lose weight and get healthier. It's a bathroom scale called Shapa and the interesting thing about this scale is that it doesn’t tell you what you weigh. Instead, it simply tells you whether your weight is trending up, down, or staying the same. (This is very similar to the approach that we use in our sustainable weight loss program. In fact, the name of thatprogram is Weightless!)

When trying to develop healthy habits, we should focus on rewarding the behavior instead of the outcome.

In a pilot study, Dan's group recruited volunteers who either weighed themselves every morning on a conventional scale or on the Shapa scale. While the group who used the regular scale gained a bit of weight over the course of the study, the group that used the Shapa scale lost about 1% of their body weight each month. 

That may not seem like very much but, as you've heard me say before, you are far more likely to maintain your weight loss when you lose it slowly. (It also beats the heck out of slowly gaining weight!)

In our interview, Dan explains the behavioral economics at work and how the insights that led to the Shapa scale can help you form other healthy habits as well. 

Here are just a few highlights from our interview. Use this article's embedded audio player to hear the entire conversation.

  • When trying to develop healthy habits, we should focus on rewarding the behavior instead of the outcome.
  • Getting on the scale every morning can help remind you of your intention to eat healthy throughout the day.
  • Our weight can fluctuate by several pounds from day to day. But this has very little to do with actual fat loss or gain.  
  • It can take up to two weeks for changes that you make to your diet and exercise to actually translate into fat loss.
  • To get a true picture of how changes to your diet and exercise are impacting your body, you need to look at the long-term trend.

You can learn more about the Dan's work at his website http://danariely.com

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