Why are people so successful on the Optifast Program? Some of the effectiveness can be attributed to stimuli narrowing. There are few choices to make (chocolate, vanilla or strawberry), so there is not much to worry about since the range of food cues is so drastically narrow.
We live in an environment filled with food cues. Society bombards us with food stimuli through advertising and the easy availability of foods 24/7. The sights, sounds, and smells of food are everywhere. Because of the difficulty of managing this stimulus overload, excess weight gain can result for many Americans. Therefore it would seem that if the amount of food stimuli in the environment were reduced to limit the exposure to so many choices, people might improve their ability to manage their food choices and amounts. Stimuli narrowing means we must narrow the range of food stimuli to which we are exposed, such as food-related situations, types of foods and the amount of food that is around us in our everyday life.
If you are already practicing stimulus control by putting food away and by keeping tempting foods out of the house, try limiting the number of places you eat to only one room, like the dining room. Also, try not eating in your car. If you work outside the home, choose a place at work where you eat your meal (preferably not at your desk!)
Instead of providing different types of food, the Optifast Program has a very specific prescription for food (the Meal Replacement) that is very comforting in its simplicity. This reduction in food stimuli helps people feel less anxious and fosters self-control that helps prevent overeating episodes.
Stimuli narrowing can help with successful long-term weight management as well. What are the features of stimuli narrowing that can be applied to the real world
- Routine diet – A routine diet that has limited variety will reduce the amount of exposure to food cues. Research studies on both animals and humans show that the greater the variety of food in a given meal, the greater the caloric intake. These studies conducted by Johns Hopkins University, have also shown that the more limited the variety of food available, the lower the caloric intake.
- Moderate in Taste and Attractiveness – Foods that are highly attractive and tasty tend to be eaten in greater amounts. This doesn’t mean that the food you eat must taste or look bad! The goal is for food to be satisfying, but not over stimulating. The everyday diet needs to be neither too attractive nor too bland to make portion control easy.
- Ease of Preparation and clean-up – If the amount of time spent on preparation and cleaning up meals is reduced then the exposure to food cues is minimized as well. It may greatly help to switch these duties with other family members to minimize the amount of time you spend in food preparation and clean up.
This doesn’t mean that you can never eat special, highly attractive foods again. The key is to incorporate an occasional special meal into your schedule by careful planning but more importantly to understand that every day is not a special day. This means that after a special meal is eaten, it is back to the regular, routine, stimuli-controlled eating pattern.
As a tool, stimuli narrowing may encourage people to feel more in control of their eating habits and those feelings of success can help sustain motivation for continuous, effective weight management.