Informal Qualitative Personal Psychometrics

Two of my co-workers took an energy management class recently. I happened to join them the other day when they went to meet with some of their former classmates. It was a lunch meeting, so I had my usual salad. The people at the table who had not seen this before were aghast that I was eating what amounted to kale, spinach, lettuce, and carrots with no dressing whatsoever.

Without time to think of a better answer, I said “dressing is superfluous.” A little later I brought up the conversation again. I said I had considered a while ago what it was that made me reluctant to eat salad. The inconvenience of fast-decaying greens made it difficult in my house, but at my work the high quality salad bar resolved that issue. As I mentioned in last week’s post, eating in and of itself is a calming activity for me. Salad greens and carrots, I learned, were not outright unpleasant to eat so much as just boring. Therefore with an interesting main dish, a large salad is a perfectly acceptable side. I do not trust salad dressing as a regular part of my meals. In general, it’s a highly processed vector of salt, sugar, and other mysterious chemicals to wreck an otherwise healthful salad. The fat in dressing is supposed to be helpful for properly digesting salad nutrients. My mother is a public health researcher, and after a very long conversation that I had to repeatedly bring back on track when she reacted with horror to every hypothetical food I suggested as an example of the non-salad parts of my meals, I managed to get her to agree that if I am eating something fatty elsewhere in the meal there is no need for additional fat directly on the salad.

When I said this, one of my co-workers immediately identified it. “Psychometrics,” he pronounced. “You are using psychometrics.” I found this characterization amusing. I would normally refer to this as introspection, but it may also be reasonable to think if it as a sort of informal, qualitative, personal psychometrics, or IQPP. Just kidding. I’m going to refer to it as introspection.

One of the first IQPP introspection-based lifestyle improvements I’ve made surrounding food in particular has been to recognize the pace at which I cease to enjoy a food. I have long been aware that my second bite of ice cream is not as good as my first, and that by the time I get to the bottom of a large soda I am either hardly noticing the flavor anymore or actively feeling sick. Selling food in small quantities is not something that capitalism encourages. The economy of scale and simple matters of supply and demand mean that the more food companies can get you to eat, the more money they’ll make, even with extremely steep bulk discounts. At my work, I have an unlimited supply of free lemonade and every week we have our aluminum cylinder of peanut M&Ms refilled. It lasts about two days on average. This resolves the issue of purchase volume as I am free to commit myself to no more than one M&M at a time. All that remains is self-control. By focusing my attention on the diminishing pleasure achieved by each additional peanut M&M, I have resolved the age old paradox, “you can’t eat just one.” I also use the roughly quarter-cup plastic container given for these snacks when I feel like I want some lemonade. A sporadic single peanut M&M and a quarter cup of lemonade now and then maximize my pleasure-to-sugar ratio when I might otherwise be distracted by temptation or feel sick from overindulgence.

With Halloween nearly two weeks past now, we’re still receiving bags of candy in our break rooms. After helping myself to four pieces of candy, I decided it was time to stop. This did not relieve me of temptation, though. Introspection to the rescue! Shortly after picking up a full-size bag of sour skittles, I analyzed my response to it. Without even opening the bag, I was already enjoying the experience. The crinkling of the gaudily colored packaging paper and the feel of the rough sour crystal-coated skittles inside served as the lead-in to the eventual experience of eating this snack. I decided to try treating it as the entire experience, and walked back to the break room to put down the bag of skittles.

Another treat from my childhood, Nerds, is a small, tangy candy that comes by the hundred in colorful little cardboard boxes. Lifting one of these boxes in my break room, I felt and heard the candies jostling and bouncing around. This was part of the experience, no doubt like the skittles carefully designed to keep people coming back and filling up on more sugar. Again, I was able to make it the whole experience. Every single time I saw that particular box of Nerds I picked it up and tilted it, remembering the joy I had received from others like it as a small child while suffering none of the consequences of adding so much sugar to my diet.

Do any of my readers have healthy eating strategies? Share in the comments.

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6 thoughts on “Informal Qualitative Personal Psychometrics”

  1. I have no idea why this is supposed to be psychometrics,even though that is a field with which I am familiar. Introspection, yes. But especially, it is mindful eating. Buddhist. Thich Nhat Hahn. Splendid, Sam!

    You remind me of a coworker. For her birthday, a Moravian coffee cake was brought in. She could not eat the coffee cake because she is gluten-free, but instead of complaining, she enjoyed it visually, by sense of smell, and using her memory.

    I admired her, just as I admire you.

    Love,
    Dad

  2. psy·cho·met·rics
    noun
    the science of measuring mental capacities and processes.

    I tend to persuade myself that I don’t like the things that are bad for me and do like the things that are good for me. So I mentally persuade myself to change my sense of taste.

    1. Ha ha, you know I did look up that definition before I wrote this. You act like you can’t even see how I could possibly get from psychometrics to introspection even though I clearly laid out the path with all the modifiers I applied. The fact that I used three modifiers should help to convince you that I know they’re not the same thing.

      Slow and deliberate correcting of unhealthful preferences is probably the best long term strategy. I should note that lately I mostly don’t desire sugary beverages and candies at all.

  3. About 18 months ago, I absolutely binged on Easter candy (I was visiting Maine and Rebecca had given me a far too generous and decadent basket). I love candy, but I ate so much that I temporarily lost my desire for it. I decided to take advantage of the moment and eliminated nearly all processed sugar and artificial sweeteners from my diet for about six months. I’ve relaxed my ban quite a bit more recently but candy and diet soda just don’t taste that good to me anymore. So, I recommend a short burst of absurd overindulgence as one potential strategy for getting off unhealthy foods.

    1. I’ve heard about that strategy before. I’m impressed that it worked for you. It’s amazing how much more challenging it is to eliminate processed sugar entirely over just candy, soda, and other sweets.

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