September 22, 2013

How to Prevent the Halo Effect from Derailing Your Nutrition. ~ Micah Saccomanno

“The part can never be well unless the whole is well.” ~ Plato

Apple, the computer juggernaut known for perpetually designing and innovating, shows up just as perpetually in the news either fighting or defending the patents that go along with the technological advancements that they are synonymous for.

Ironically, the written signal that identifies their signature work is un-patentable—the lowercase “i.”

iPod. iPad. iMac. iTunes…etc.

This leaves their reputation open to a massive liability as any other manufacturer can throw a lowercase “i” in front of their product to deceive consumers into buying what they think is an Apple product.

You will find many permutations of iSomethings at most truck stops and cheap-o electronic stores across the world in the form of hack headphones, mp3 players, and so on.

This is because the lowercase “i” possesses what is known as “the halo effect,” a circumstance that affects many other parts of our life outside of Apple, including, for the sake of this article, our nutrition.

The halo effect is a term invented by psychologist Edward Thorndike to describe a phenomenon in which judgments made on a person are influenced by the overall impression of that person. For instance, studies have shown that juries convict attractive people far less than ugly people.

For more than 2, 000 years, halos have been a visual shorthand to communicate divinity, heroism, and goodness in art in works where there were no way to portray how or why a person was set apart from mere men. A halo of fire or light above their heads was enough to signal just how virtuous these characters were.

The lowercase “i” is Apple’s halo, which others like to steal off its head from time to time.

The way that this relates to nutrition is the similarly religious approach that people can take towards a certain avenue of nutrition. The nutritional shorthand of a diet, whether it be Raw, Paleo, or Vegan, while an easy barometer for health, brings with it the danger of having a predetermined answer to whether something is healthy or not.

This means that Vegans can find themselves eating Doritos through the subconscious virtue of the halo effect.

Raw foodists may find themselves not paying attention to their caloric and vitamin intake due to their dwelling in the cathedral of Raw.

Paleo eaters may find themselves mostly healthy through their rituals but then develop certain deficiencies like vitamin D.

The opposite of the halo effect is the “devil effect,” which can be just as harmful as one might demonize foods based on their perception as being overall evil rather than on a thoughtful investigation of their natures, such as in cooked foods or fruit or even (brace yourselves) GMOs!

The halo effect is useful in a world where we are constantly bombarded with facts and information and have to act quickly in order to survive. However, awareness of the halo effect will prevent us from fleeing from one ill into the maws of another.

Here’s how to defeat the halo effect in your diet:

1. Be an agnostic about your food.

Judge food by results, not by an ideology. Never make assumptions about your diet based on labels.

Remember that you are surrounded—surrounded by businesses that want to guide you towards your food choices. They come in the form of food processors, health gurus, diet promoters, and so on.

These companies may not necessarily lie about the benefits of their products or their programs, But, keep in mind that they are investing in your belief in their authority. They will tend to be biased towards their values, which may not be yours.

Make your body the highest authority.

 2. Reject broad labels that only look at one characteristic of a food.

This is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Judging a food based on its fat content or sugar content alone is a broad stroke that can cause you to get into habits that prevent you from the other things your body needs such as iron or B12 or just basic calories!

Hooray! You’re so proud of the fact that you’ve lost 10 pounds from your vegan lifestyle, you barely notice the fact that your hair’s falling out. Your laser-sharp quest for protein is so successful that constant constipation is just a road bump in your uncompromising mission.

Think of food in terms of its net value. What is the sum of all its strengths and weaknesses? Food should not be eaten in a vacuum but judged in the context of everything else you’re eating in your custom-crafted food lifestyle.

Stepping back from your choices to see your big food picture is a far-better approach to eating than knee-jerking your way around the grocery store in search of singular food value.

3. Use a bottom up approach to food rather than a top down approach.

Be open to all ideas and approaches but craft your own way of eating.

Everyone’s body is different and everyone’s diet should be different. Asking your doctor for a blood test will help you determine what conditions or deficiencies you may have. Checking for allergies should be a part of your process as certain foods might go unrecognized or be attributed to something else. This can absolutely derail your nutrition and can only be determined individually.

Self-unawareness can leave a person stuck to only recognizing two internal food signals, hungry and full. Break out of this by understanding that you can listen to your body’s energy as you eat different foods. This can also give you an immediate idea as well to knowing what’s right for you without relying on any outside authority.

What foods are practical for you? The likelihood of you eating that food weighs large on the net value of that food. The net value of a durian green super smoothie is zero if you never drink it.  Understanding your psychological food weaknesses is a  crucial factor in crafting your own food lifestyle.

There’s no escaping the fact that sometimes we just want to be told what to do. Just point us in the right the direction and we’ll do it! But, the fact is that the disappointment that can come from going in the wrong direction isn’t worth it.

The great thing about personalizing your own nutrition is that you really just need to do most of the work just once when you start and then you’ve got the benefits forever.

Wouldn’t you rather be wearing the halo yourself anyway?


Like elephant vegetarian and vegan on Facebook.

Ed: Dana Gornall

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

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