A healthy lifestyle means keeping active1 and making healthy food choices2,3- but also dealing with everything you should not eat! For every apple or salad you do eat there is a choice to abstain from that unhealthy trade-off, the freshly baked cupcake or those crispy french fries.
Research has implicated that people make about 200 food-related choices every day4 and food choice situations can be hard to tackle. Certain nutritiants, especially high-sugar foods, trigger activation of reward regions in the brain5. To conquer your brain´s signaling and resist the temptation you will need some strong willpower or a behavior strategy.
We have designed a mobile app to support you with this!
When you find yourself in a situation where you experience conflicting feelings about a choice - acknowledge the feelings, take a hard look at what triggers them, accept the situation and then put it all behind you to re-commit to your healthy lifestyle.
Myskips will be with you in the moment of decision and support you in your healthy choices and behaviors by imaging, acknowledging and keeping track of all food items you successfully skipped!
Visualizing all that hard work will motivate you to continue on your healthy path!
How can this help?
One could argue that exposing yourself to the item from which you want to abstain might increase craving. Wouldn’t taking a picture of the tempting food item direct attention towards it and start the process that would end up in eating it? Actually, several lines of research suggest that the opposite is true.
We all know how the mere thought and imagery of eating something in many ways is close to the real thing. This is true also from a brain research perspective – imagery activates similar brain areas as those that are involved when things truly happen in reality. Even if taking a photo of the item and giving it a label is a quick procedure in the app, you still have time to imagine how it feels to consume it. If this happens, it may in fact be beneficial. Thoroughly performed studies show that exposing subjects to food items, at least if it triggers what is called sensory stimulation (the imagined process of eating the item), will decrease their desire to consume the food6, 7, 8. The exposure to food may even lead to satiation to other nutrients that share the same taste characteristics. For example, repeatedly exposing people to images of salty snacks subsequently reduced their consumption of peanuts7.
The takeaway is that, instead of trying to avoid thinking about a tempting food item, you can accept that it is attractive and acknowledge your cravings. In fact - chances are that you help the satiation process and decrease your wish to eat!
Short-term vs long-term rewards and coping strategies
“..with myskips, we want to offer a problem-solving coping strategy..”
Now, imagine a frustrating situation where you can follow the urge for a short term reward (taking the fast food lunch to save time and eating that chocolate bar) or go for a long-term reward (reduce fatigue from expected back-lashes in energy and follow the plan to stick to low-carb foods to lose weight). Here, a coping strategy can help you. One class of coping strategies are called emotion-focused. This refers to handling a stressful situation through your emotions, such as trying to keep calm or to use a breathing exercise. Another class of coping strategies are those that are problem-focused, meaning that you actively deal with the problem itself by a behavioral strategy. With myskips, we aim to help you change your behavior by providing a problem-solving coping strategy. When the tricky food choice situation comes up, you know what to do: use the app and follow the procedure to skip the tempting item. In other words: stay active, take a photo and go on to other activities.
Short-term vs long-term rewards and positive reinforcement
“..we designed myskips to provide positive reinforcement..”
A general problem in behavior change, and an obstacle to forming new habits, is the conflict between immediate and long-term reward. Consuming a wanted item (e.g. a chocolate bar) results in immediate reward. When changing behavior, the reward (e.g. weight loss) is only available in the future. If you follow the plan, you will eventually lose weight, increase fitness, or see that your economy gets better by all the money you saved. This pinpoints the problem with dieting. In the beginning of a new diet, you may trigger the reward system by feeling that you did good – you actually followed the plan you decided to follow. This reward is however weak, and what is worse, it will wane off over time. The short term reward of consuming the item is still within reach, with unchanged strength. This is why so many people fail to follow through with a diet. In fact, 18-26% of participants drop off diet programs even within research studies9. Fighting the reward system is very hard in the long run.
We designed myskips to help you in the very moment of choice when long-term reward tries to win over its immediately available cousin. Taking a picture of the tempting item and adding it to the pile of previous skips is rewarding in itself. Depending on how you set your goal, you will see not only your instant victory, but also all urges you successfully conquered before. Feeling an immediate reward from seeing the amount of items you have skipped, will increase the probability to repeat the successful behavior. This is called positive reinforcement, and is exactly what we’re after here!
Short-term vs long-term rewards and valued goals
“..the myskips app is designed to support you in your valued goals..”
When thinking of what is important in life and what you want to achieve, you identify valued goals. Your valued goals correspond to long-term rewards. To achieve these, you need to deal with the barriers to valued living. The purpose of the myskips app is to deliver a short term reward from the fun strategy of using it and strengthen behavior that will lead to your valued goals. The myskips app is designed to support you in healthy eating behaviors, but can actually be used in exactly the same way to achieve other goals. Maybe it´s time to lay off that nicotine gum, reduce your screen time or cut down on the shopping? Myskips can support you in any healthy, sustainable goal!
About the app
A last word on behavior change. It is important to note that the myskips app is a device designed to support you in the daily process of behavior change. It is not an alternative to professional treatment. If you have a serious health or behavioral problem, health care assistance is needed to assess your problems and to provide evidence based care.