In my behavioral change class we have been discussing the ideas behind how conformity influences our decisions. One of the studies that discusses the importance of conformity is the Asch experiment.
In the Asch experiment we witness a person change their answer to a simple test of line lengths in order to be like the rest of the group. When interviewed after the study, those that did change their answer (which was the majority) stated the reasons they changed their answers. Some said it was because they didn’t want to draw any attention to themselves by being the odd man and others said it was because once the entire group answered the wrong answer they changed their mind about their answer.
Let me repeat that last part: Even when the answer was blatantly obvious, they would actually change their mind about which answer was correct.
No judgement here, I’ve done this many times in my life… Questioned my own answer when the rest of the group answered differently. So let’s see how this plays out with our weight.
Imagine you have been on the dieting roller coaster for over 20 years. Your days are filled with food obsessing thoughts, shame over exercise and an overall disgust with your physical body. The people around you, even the ones that love you most, consistently ask how your weight loss endeavors are going. And they often share the next fad diet, pill, or strategy that you need to try.
One day you read about an approach that requires you to stop dieting. Furthermore, it claims that you are not lazy, weak or pathetic. The more you read, the more you resonate with the words in front of you. With excitement bubbling up inside of you, you reach out to a loved one to tell them about what you found. Their response, “that will never work”. And just like that you release the dream of living a life free of dieting.
When groups of people have decided that weight loss happens a specific way it feels impossible to jump out of the stream their swimming in and tread water in your own. Your innate desire to fit in forces you to question whether you may drown in that pond all on your own. Or worse, whether you would be swimming in it alone forever. The fear of not belonging becomes so strong that not only will you change your beliefs, patterns and thoughts to align with those around you, you may actually fear being alone more than death itself.
Group pressure will transform the way we experience life. If we are choosing thoughts, beliefs and actions that aren’t aligned with what we desire, we experience fitting in, but we lack the experience of belonging. When put in more critical positions we can make immoral, out of character decisions, grasping to the potential to belong to something. And in the case of weight.. the group has it wrong.
One of the fascinating results of the Asch experiment is that when they had just one person give the correct answer, it increased the odds that another would go against the majority. This shows us that it doesn’t take a majority to give us the confidence to stand strong in our answer, it just takes one.
Many people believe the information I teach is too good to be true. Or it’s the first and only time they’ve heard it, so they lack confidence that it could work. So let’s look at another person who agrees with the words I write to you about non-dieting. Geneen Roth stated the following on Facebook earlier today:
“After 30 years of working with emotional eaters, I can confidently say that I’ve never met anyone who has ever lost weight — and kept it off — by deprivation. We are sensory, pleasure-loving beings. It is not just calories that fill us up, but the joy we take from eating them.
We don’t overeat because we take too much pleasure from food, but because we don’t take enough. When pleasure ends, overeating begins.
Imagine what your life would be like if you let yourself eat with passion. If you felt entitled, no matter what you weighed, to eat with gusto. You may discover that foods you loved — as well as those you didn’t — truly do give you pleasure, and there’s no price tag attached. And that’s how it should be. Why not be astonished by the crisp taste of an apple? Why not revel in the smooth texture of an olive? Since you need to eat to live, why let one moment of joy — even one — pass you by?”
Imagine you’re back reading about this non-dieting approach to weight loss. You really believe that this information can work for you even though your loved one shot you down the other day. You begin looking at the credentials of the writer. Not only has she been studying non-dieting weight loss for years, she has the education and certifications to back it up. This time you show a group of your dieting friends, hoping to get them on your side to try this approach. Each one of them says there is no way it will work. And so you are faced with a decision: Fit in or risk being vulnerable and alone.
In order to be the one who swims in a pond all on your own, you must be wiling to examine the feelings of scarcity, isolation and vulnerability. Those courageous enough to do this will find several others they naturally belong with, ready and willing to swim with them. There may not be another in front of you to go against the grain, it may be you.