Dieters Beware: Fat Mongers Have Set Traps in Your Grocery Store

Would you let your child wander alone through a dangerous neighborhood? Well, for an overeater, there is no neighborhood more dangerous than the grocery store. And compared to the army of manipulators lurking on every shelf, we are all like children.

Long ago, social psychologist Phillip Zimbardo created a mock prison in the basement of Stanford University to see what effects role play would have on healthy, upper class college students. What they found was that the situation or context in which we find ourselves can so overwhelm one's individual will-power that the experiment had to be called off. Nice kids chosen by a coin toss to play at being guards of other nice kids chosen to play at being their prisoners were recreating real life-like strife normally only found in real prisons and concentration camps.

Western culture loves the fantasy of the totally independent, self-reliant heroic-individualist who ignores pressures of every sort to do the right thing. But the real story is that we humans are enormously vulnerable to situational pressures. If there are pictures of cookies on a bag we salivate like Pavlov's dogs. If the bag is located right at eye level, we have vastly less self control than if it were lower down. If there is the right color paint on the store walls and the right volume of music in the air, we may have still less self control in making decisions about what to buy and eat. Humans are highly sensitive to context.

Chris Anderson writes about how the deck is stacked against the naive, innocent (childlike?) shopper in his book "The Long Tail": "The shelf reflects the absolute state of the art in retail science. The products on today's supermarket shelves are packaged and arranged according to stocking algorithms and the peaks of elastic demand curves. The optimal inventory distribution is recalculated each day in retail chain headquarters and tuned in real time on the basis of check-out data."

This is a trap that has been set by scientists who know you better than you know yourself. When you go to the bad neighborhood of the grocery store: take a friend. Use a list. Buy nothing you have not decided to buy before entering the enemy territory of the food-pushers.

Most couples or "dieting teams" will have one member who is less field-dependent; a person who eats and buys in a less impulsive and less situation-triggered way. This person can shop for the couple, or both parts of the team can shop together, providing social support to repel the secret strategies of the market. If you think quick sand is a danger in the jungle, try making down the candy and cookie aisle when you're on a diet! Either way, it's your own body weight that will pull you down.

Think about the subtle pressures imposed on the shopper who is striving for limitation and weight reduction, or simply good health as Anderson continues: "These shelf-stocking models are designed to press every button we've got: satisfying existing demand, stimulating new demand, and extracting the highest possible sales from the smallest space."

And you thought you were just stopping off for a quart of milk! That's why we leave the store with so much more than we went there to purchase. When the clerk asks what researchers told his bosses to require him inquire: "Did you find everything you needed?" the correct answer is generally, "Yes, and a hell of a lot more!"

The supermarket is not just a building with products for you to choose from. Your human tendencies and perceptual styles and neurological make-up were analysed and strategies designed to overwhelm your conscious choice. If this were seduction of another sort, the vice squad would be called out to every store every day.

Anderson explains that "Every dimension of the supermarket shelf has been studied, focus-grouped, and observed by retail anthropologists via hidden cameras [read Spying] and radio-frequency ID tags [read animal tracking methods of the hunter]. The retail shelf is the frontline [as in a War] of an enterprise that accounts for nearly 60% of the American economy [read Greed with billions of dollars at stake so to hell with your weight and health] and the research industry [that's the industrial revolution vs. you] devoted to understanding it befits its importance [and erases yours!]." [Bracketed comments mine.]

You might want to take a friend, or grow your own food, or try hunting in the actual jungles for a safer setting, or maybe just order food online for now... until your galvanic skin response-equipped keyboard is wired to measure your arousal rate at the sight of each snack food which is then automatically sent to your door. That's bound to be next.

See Dr Masa and Debbie Hart's ebook, "How We Lost Our First 100 Pounds Together: Romantic Weight Loss for Couples."

Consider some great options for online help from Weight Watchers.

Article Source:,_Ph.D.

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