Friday, October 15, 2010

Life: Its a multiple choice...

The days are getting shorter and colder, bears are hibernating, birds are migrating and I am starting to get caught up on my list of things to do indoors, que the cheerleaders. One thing on my winter list is to catch up on my reading.  Instead of lacing up my sneakers for a morning run or cardio session on the back patio I am sitting on my recumbent bike reading during the downhill sections.  Recently I was reading Ode Magazine and came upon a piece in the Business & Innovation section by Adam Smith entitled "Why we Buy."

In the article "Why we Buy" Adam discusses Behavior Economics and uses the purchase of a light bulb as an example of the thoughts behind the human decision making process. When he arrives at the store  Adam is faced with three choices in bulbs; a standard bulb which costs less has a shorter life that uses more resources to operate, a bulb that lasts 8 times longer costs 7 times more than the cheap bulb and uses a significant less resource to operate, last choice is a bulb that both costs and last 3 times as long as the cheapest bulb and saves a little bit of resource to operate. Which did he chose, which would you most likely chose, Adam took the middle road and picked the mid range bulb. Had Adam been thinking long term he would have spent 7 times more and had a bulb that lasted 8 times longer that saved even more money annually in operating costs. Behavioral economics first rule, according to Adam's article at least, is that we shouldn't live only in the present but instead think long term and spend more today to save a lot more over time. Humans tend to make decisions in the short term that risk harming us in the long run. According to Adam economists have labeled this process instant gratification, that sounds familiar, I see and hear that in the health world.

Of course Adams is talking about finances, yet when reading the article I can't help thinking about the choices people make in their nutrition. When it comes down to finances or health, people are faced with choices and they don't always think of the long haul but instant gratification. What if instead of bulbs we were sitting down at a nice deli ordering off the menu and you had three choices.
  • The first choice would be grilled seasoned protein, a steamed vegetable and green salad with oil and vinegar dressing, water and no dessert.
  • The next choice would be grilled panini sandwich (protein of choice) on wheat with cheese, grilled vegetables, unsweetened tea still no dessert.
  • The last choice is a hamburger with cheese on a bun, chips or fries with a diet soda (which seems to be the theme when the main meal is highly caloric)  and slaw.
Using the model above, many people will go the middle of the road and pick the panini with salad, more calories than the super clean meal but certainly less than the dirty dish.  Choosing the mid line choice, you feel good about it but still have a little bit of naughty in there to satisfy the wild child within.  Just like in school, when in doubt go with option B and hope to win the law of averages.

The reality of the day is that when you are trying to balance a tight budget you aren't looking to save the environment or your physical health but instead to save your bottom line.  Choices are made based on the "most bang for the buck" in the shortest term then worry about the consequences later.  The unfortunate truth of the situation is that those consequences don't come as late as people hoped they would, sooner than later you will be buying more bulbs for a buck, paying for an expensive visit to your physician, spending way to much on medications to clear up the medical conditions those bad choices created in your body.  If we lived in a perfect world people could chose their nutrition based on the best value for their body and not the best value for their pocket.  It comes down to choices, with your nutrition you should look at the overall picture yet most people choose like there is no tomorrow, based on your choices today a brighter tomorrow may never come.

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