You Have What It Takes to Get Healthy!

Submitted on May 26, 2010 - 2:30pm

An important factor in determining whether we are successful or not when undertaking a difficult endeavor is our own confidence that we have what it takes. Psychologists call this self-efficacy, a term coined by eminent Stanford University research psychologist Albert Bandura. Bandura and other investigators have repeatedly shown that if you believe that you can accomplish something, it is much more likely that you will.

What is being suggested here is not some sort of magic. It is not an attempt to sell you the idea that if you can believe it, you can achieve it. That type of thinking is obviously incorrect. For example, a schoolboy might truly believe that he can run a mile in under four minutes, but an unfounded belief cannot alter true physical limitations. What is being suggested by self-efficacy theory is that if you really have the innate capability to do something, but you don't believe that you can do it, then you may unnecessarily fail!

Math lesson adds up

One experiment that Bandura and his colleague Dale Schunk conducted helps to demonstrate the importance of self-confidence. Students who were having difficulty in arithmetic were selected for special help. These students were each given a self-instruction booklet, which contained 42 pages of instruction and related exercises. Students were then randomly assigned to one of two experimental groups. In the first group, students were told that a reasonable goal was to try to complete the 42-page booklet by the end of seven study sessions (one study session per school day). We might describe this first group as being the One Big Goal Group because they were oriented towards thinking that the goal was to finish the entire booklet, rather than to work toward smaller subgoals.

In the second group, students were told that a reasonable goal would be to complete six pages of the booklet per study session for each of the seven days. We might describe this group as the "One Step at a Time Group." Other than these instructions, there were no differences in help given, answering of questions, or any other difference in the treatment of the two groups. Because students were randomly assigned to one of the two groups, there were no initial differences in overall ability between the two groups.

Bandura and Schunk suspected that they were helping the students in the "One Step" group by mentally breaking up the overall goal into smaller goals. They therefore expected that these students would gain confidence by taking the overall task just one section at a time. The authors expected that these students would work harder, persevere more often through difficulties, and ultimately learn and achieve more than students assigned to the "One Big Goal" group.
One step at a time

The results were clear, and astounding. On an achievement test used to measure students, mastery of the material, those in the "One Step at a Time Group" substantially outperformed the "One Big Goal Group." The average student in the "One Step at a Time" group was able to obtain an 80% score on a mastery test, whereas the average student in the "One Big Goal" group was only able to answer 40% of the problems correctly. Just as important, students in the "One Step at a Time" group wound up with much greater ratings of self-confidence, and were much more likely to persevere when a difficult problem was presented! The reason for the differences between the two groups was that students in the "One Step" group were much more likely to methodically work their way through the instruction booklet, and thus developed greater mastery.

These results give us clear evidence of an important insight into human motivation. If a problem seems "too big," we often won't stick with it, and lose our confidence. Alternatively, if we can find creative ways to chop big problems into a series of smaller ones, our confidence, motivation, and efforts, and thus our results, can improve dramatically.
Obstacles to healthful living

Living a healthful lifestyle in the modern environment can present a formidable challenge. There are several major types of obstacles in our way, each of them alone being enough to knock us off course. One of the most important of these types of obstacles is what we refer to collectively as channel factors. These are factors in our real-life situations that can make it more difficult for us to actually do the sorts of health-promoting behaviors that we intend to do.

Channel factors can be surprisingly important in either promoting or derailing behavioral intentions. For example, when soliciting business by mail, one of the most important factors is whether the business owner includes a postage-paid envelope! No matter if what is being sold costs over $100, and the additional cost of the stamp to the potential customer is negligible, the would-be customers are much less likely to buy if they have to go to the slight additional effort of finding a stamp.

With health behavior, these "channel factors" are almost always in opposition to our good intentions. The most convenient, and most socially acceptable, foods are usually the least healthful. Eating wisely usually requires more planning, more time and energy, and some additional skill development. In addition, because healthful foods can take longer to prepare, we often face a longer period of time between the impulse to eat and when we actually start eating.

With all of these forces pushing against us, it is little wonder that our best intentions often fall short. The greatest danger, however, lies not in our short-term failures. The most critical damage that these "Channel factor" problems can cause is the damage to our self-confidence! When our good intentions are consistently derailed, we can start to believe that we simply "don't have what it takes" to live healthfully. To adopt this belief would be a serious mistake.
Personality and behavior

One of the most important discoveries in social science in the past few decades has been the finding that people believe too strongly that personality differences are responsible for the behavioral differences they see between individuals.

By contrast, people typically underestimate the importance of situational forces that give rise to individual behavior. This can be a dangerous error when it comes to health behavior. People often think that if they have failed to live healthfully, the reason is that they lack some essential personality characteristic!

They may feel they are a "bad" or a "weak" person. They often fail to appreciate that subtle situational forces have conspired to disrupt their efforts. This belief that personality characteristics are the key feature in determining behavior can act like an optical illusion. It can cause us to make mistakes about how reality really works, and lead us to underestimate the importance of paying attention to situational influences. An example may help to illustrate this "personality" versus "situation" illusion.

Personality vs. situations

If you were trying to get college students to contribute to a canned food drive, which would be the most important task: finding people with helpful personalities, or creating situational forces that would make contributions more likely? Professor Lee Ross and his colleagues at Stanford attempted to find out, and the results of their investigation are instructive.

Their study was designed to examine both personality and situational factors in determining behavior, and also to examine which of these two types of factors is most important. The researchers divided students into four groups and studied their responses to a common request: to contribute to a canned food drive.

How the study worked

Students were asked to nominate their classmates for either one of two groups. One group was for those considered "most likely" to contribute to a canned food drive. The other was for those considered "least likely" to contribute. Once the nominations were completed, the investigators divided each of these groups in half. One half of the "most likely" students was assigned to an "assisted" group (group 1), the other half to an "unassisted" group (group 2). The same procedure was carried out with the "least likely" students (groups 3 and 4). (See Chart 1.)

The students in the two "assisted" groups were provided with specific situational forces designed to make it easier for them to contribute. Each student received a letter that addressed him or her by name; they were given specific instructions as to what foods were being requested; and they were given the address and a map to where the contributions could be dropped off. In addition, these students were given a "reminder" phone call during the week of the event. All of these factors were designed to facilitate behavior, rather than to impede it.

By contrast, the students in the two "unassisted" groups were provided with general information designed to make it slightly more difficult to contribute, so that the likelihood of contributing would be based primarily on their personalities. These students also were sent a letter, but this letter was merely addressed to "Dear Student," and there were no specific recommendations about which foods to bring. Likewise, the address to where the contributions could be dropped off was listed, but no map was provided. Finally, no "reminder" phone call was placed. These situational factors were designed to subtly impede contributing behavior.

Student predictions

How do you think each of the various groups contributed? The results may surprise you. They certainly surprised students who were asked the same question.

Students, none of whom were in any of the four groups, were apprised of the study's design. Afterwards, they were asked to make their best guess as to what percentage of subjects in each group would contribute to the food drive. A lot can be learned from their predictions. (See Chart 2.)

Students predicted that 82% of the students in the "most likely/assisted" group would contribute. They predicted that 80% of the students in the "most likely/unassisted" group would contribute. By contrast, they predicted that only 17% of the students in the "least likely/assisted" group would contribute, and that 16% of the "least likely/unassisted" group would contribute.

Clearly, these predictions indicate that students believed that personality factors, and not situational "channel" factors, were by far the most important issues in predicting behavior! The students showed almost no consideration for the situational forces that might be at play. Instead, they believed that the "most likely" students could reasonably be expected to contribute, regardless of situation, about 80% of the time. Likewise, they predicted that the "least likely" students would contribute about 16-17% of the time, regardless of situational forces. The students guessed wrong.
Surprising results

The results were much different than most people would reasonably predict. (See Chart 3.) Students considered "most likely" to help who were in the "assisted" group contributed only 42% of the time. Furthermore, students considered "most likely" to help who were in the "unassisted" group contributed a mere 8% of the time. Just as surprising were the results for "least likely" students. Those in the "assisted" group contributed a remarkable 25% of the time, while those in the "unassisted" group contributed 0% (that's right, zero percent) of the time.

These results provide a terrific example of not only the importance of situational forces in behavior, but also serve to highlight our natural tendency to overestimate personality factors in behavior. Note that the results show that the so-called "least likely" to help students in the "assisted" group were more than three times more likely to contribute than the "most likely" to help students in the "unassisted" group. The message is clear: situational forces are very powerful, and underestimated, sources of influence in our behavior.
You do have what it takes!

In my work as the psychologist for the TrueNorth Health Center, one of my main tasks is to help patients understand our most fundamental psychological message: You have what it takes to live healthfully! Not uncommonly, patients come to the Center after a period of getting off track, to get a period of rest, healing, and psychological rejuvenation. Often, when patients are nearing the end of their stay, they become concerned that they may somehow be missing some special characteristic, some kind of personality magic, that separates those who seem to keep on track from those who stumble.

An important task we have at the Center is to convince each patient that the power to live healthfully is already in his or her own hands. The "Big Goal" is to live healthfully, and that may seem overwhelming, and perhaps beyond one's capacities. But we take pains to explain and convince our patients that the "Big Goal" is just a target, and that it is really made up of a series of little goals. For example, getting used to fixing oatmeal and fruit for breakfast; planning a weekly menu; preparing a permanent shopping list to help make shopping and meal planning less mentally taxing; and carrying healthful snacks in your car so that you have something to help you resist the "pull" of unhealthful convenience snacks. Likewise, you can plan to do a "big cooking" once or twice a month, when you make soups and other entrees in bulk, and freeze some of the extra food for later convenience.
Reason for confidence

If you have struggled and stumbled from time to time on your way to healthful living, take heart! There is no "personality part" that you are missing that you must somehow cultivate. You don't need a year of group therapy, or some special psychiatric "self-discipline" pill. You already have what it takes to make your healthful lifestyle happen.

When you stumble, pay attention to what small factors conspired to defeat you, and steel yourself to find a solution. Piece by piece, and battle by battle, you can put together a winning formula. Don't think that a bad day or a bad week means that you don't have what it takes to succeed.

You do have what it takes. And you will discover this if you will just have a bit of patience with yourself, and keep at it, one step at a time.

Health Promoting Habits

Submitted on May 26, 2010 - 2:21pm
Techniques to help you overcome the social roadblocks to health

Hygiene - the science of health-provides us with powerful principles that help us understand how to live healthfully and happily. But, remarkably, even though many people have an intellectual grasp of these principles, they do not put them into practice consistently. This is true even among those who have recovered from serious illness through Hygiene, and among those who have observed this inspiring drama in someone else's life.

As a psychologist, I feel this inconsistency demands an explanation.
Difficulties we face

There are several reasons why people who understand Hygiene may not consistently live their lives healthfully. Each situation is unique. However, in my practice at the TrueNorth Health Center, I have the opportunity to conduct the Healthy Habits groups, which are therapy sessions directed at helping people sustain positive changes. In these groups, members share their difficulties and successes in their efforts towards healthful living.

Group participants report that three types of problems account for most of the obstacles to healthful living: (1) cravings for the excitement and novelty of processed foods, (2) the convenience of "fast" foods, and (3) the social pressures from friends, family, and others about this "unusual" way of eating.

While cravings and convenience issues are important obstacles in their own right, my focus here is on the problem of adverse social pressure. For many people, social pressure is the most difficult of these three formidable obstacles to healthful living.

Need to be accepted

The crux of the social pressure issue is that we care what others think. Why should this be?   Experiments by social psychologists over the past 40 years have pointed to the answer: Our natural history is one of small-group living; thus, our natural psychology is to "get along" with others. We become concerned when others are upset or alarmed, particularly in response to our behavior. And people naturally get upset whenever we stray from the socially-accepted norm.

Any significant deviation from "normal" is generally enough to cause concern, comment, and social pressure to "conform." Something as trivial as a woman choosing to wear tennis shoes with an evening gown, for example, would be considered "unthinkable" by many people. If she tried to defend her choice by saying, "But these shoes are more comfortable than my high heels," her explanation would fall on deaf, and possibly angry, ears. She may be labeled as a "nut" and will be socially punished as long as she continues to dress in an "unacceptable" way-and probably for some time afterwards, as well.

We care about what others think because in our natural history, our ancestors relied on small-group support systems for sharing resources and trading specialized talents. These small groups needed social harmony to stay together, survive, and thrive, so internal group conflict was (and is) viewed as a serious problem. Such conflict can disrupt important life-enhancing exchange and cooperation. Little wonder, then, that groups didn't (and don't) easily tolerate unusual ways of doing things.

Reducing social pressure

A key strategy for reducing social pressure is to help others increase their tolerance for how we do things. Unfortunately, trying to do this directly often leads to failure. Consider the following interchange:

Flesh-eater: "Where do you get your protein? A person can't survive eating the way you do-it's unhealthy. You'll get sick and die. You're a nut."

Hygienist: "Why don't you leave me alone and be tolerant of our differences? I won't say another word about your clogged arteries and your overly ample proportions, and you can quit calling me a 'nut.' How about it?"

Flesh-eater: "You're a nut."

An approach that works

This direct approach tends not to work. More often than not, it is better to take an indirect approach when trying to reduce the social pressure from others to conform. We cannot expect tolerance from others. But we can make what we think and do seem less bizarre, outrageous, or threatening to them. We can accomplish this by answering questions with tentative responses, rather than definitive ones. Here is an example of an approach I frequently suggest to members in our Healthy Habits groups:

Flesh-eater: "Where do you get your protein from? A person can't survive eating the way you do-it's unhealthy. You're going to get sick and die. You're a nut."

Hygienist: "Well, my diet might not be right for everyone, but it seems to be working for me. My doctor says it seems to make sense. And if it doesn't work out, I can always go back to how I was eating before."

Husband now supportive

The effectiveness of the indirect approach was demonstrated by the experience of a woman who came to the Center earlier this year. She was suffering from some rather serious health problems, and chose to undertake a therapeutic fast and to make subsequent health-promoting dietary and lifestyle changes in order to recover her health. She was under considerable stress, however, when contemplating returning to her family and trying to maintain healthy habits. Her husband was disturbed by her visit to the Center, and was openly hostile about this approach to health recovery.

In our group work, we coached her to use an indirect approach with her husband. It was most gratifying to hear from her a few weeks later. She reported her success with great pleasure. She had recently overheard her husband on the phone with one of his friends, saying how "good his wife looked," and that "the reason was probably her new diet." The new diet was "unusual," he was explaining, but that "it seemed to make sense."

Planning for success

Health results from healthful living. But sometimes this knowledge alone is not enough. Learning to overcome the social roadblocks to health can make the difference between success and failure when it comes to health and happiness.

How Our Biological Heritage Affects Our Behavior

Submitted on May 26, 2010 - 1:48pm

An interview with Dr. Alan Goldhamer by James Michael Lennon

How did you first get interested in Natural Hygiene?

When I was 16 years old I was exposed to the philosophy of Natural Hygiene through the writings of Herbert Shelton. I was also influenced through my interaction with Dr. Gerald Benesh, of San Diego. I was fascinated by the concept that health and disease were understandable and predictable phenomena.

You are a licensed doctor. Where did you do your training in Natural Hygiene?

After I graduated from Western States Chiropractic College in Oregon, I had the privilege of completing a residency program at the Arcadia Health Centre in Australia under the instruction of Dr. Alec Burton.

When did you open the Center for Conservative Therapy?

After returning from Australia in 1984, my wife, Dr. Jennifer Marano, and I opened the Center.   During the past 10 years we have supervised the care and fasting of thousands of patients from around the world. Operating a residential health care program is an intense and demanding experience, but an extremely rewarding one.

Including you and Dr. Marano, there are now nine doctors associated with the Center For Conservative Therapy, all certified by the International Association of Professional Natural Hygienists for fasting supervision. That is quite an accomplishment.

The Center set out to attract doctors with specific skills that complement each other. No one individual can have all the skills necessary to provide optimum care. In addition to his broad hygienic knowledge, Dr. Sultana is a board certified family physician, and an expert in helping patients evaluate and, when possible, eliminate unnecessary medication and medical treatment. Dr. Isabeau is trained in sports medicine and fitness. Dr. Kim, Linzner and Dina supervise  the day-to-day activities

Having so many hygienic physicians in one place brings benefits to patients and doctors alike. Because the doctors can easily consult with one another, they can make their combined experience and expertise available to patients.

People have raved about some of your recent talks, where you have emphasized the importance of understanding the genetic influences that affect our behavior.

I think it helps people better understand some of their eating tendencies and cravings, especially with their desire to eat concentrated foods-such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, oils and processed refined foods.

We are made up of trillions of electrochemically interrelated cells. Each of our cells contains 46 chromosomes which are in turn made up of millions of genes. The gene is the basic unit of heredity and determines much of who we are. For example, the genes contain the information that determines the color of our eyes and skin, how tall we can grow, even how intelligent we can become. Genes are responsible for our strengths and weaknesses and influence virtually every part of our lives, including our behavior tendencies.

Genes affect our behavior?

Our genes determine which of our cells become muscle, bone, nerves, organs, etc. They control the growth and replacement of cells. The gene represents accumulated adaptive information that has been selected over biological time. Genes that promote behavior and characteristics that favor survival are passed on from generation to generation.

Genes survive by promoting behavior that favors survival and reproduction of the individual. To the individual, survival means getting enough to eat and not getting eaten.

In addition to passing the adaptive traits through our genes, human beings have developed another powerful means of passing on accumulated knowledge-language.

Not getting eaten implies not only avoiding being eaten by other animals trying to survive, but also avoiding bacteria, viruses and other entities that would be more than happy to try to make you their supper. Not getting eaten, in the broadest sense of the term, also means avoiding cars that might try to run you over and other dangers of modern life.

How does this tie in with human eating behavior?

Most animals spend virtually all of their time trying to get enough to eat and avoid being eaten. Human beings, owing to our sophisticated mastery of language, have been able to gain control over our environment such that, at least in the developed countries, we have been able to get enough to eat and still have some time left over. But we still have a natural craving for concentrated foods, foods that have high amounts of fuel or calories. We crave the tastes of sugar, salt and fat.

In a natural setting this desire to eat as much concentrated food as we can get serves us well. Animals whose genes promote feeding behavior live to reproduce. In a natural setting, there are no chocolate chip cookie trees or candy bushes. There are no heated, beaten, treated, refined foods. But in many countries today, these processed foods are everywhere, and they are designed to appeal to our genetically driven instincts. They fool our natural senses.

Some of my patients tell me that some junk foods have even learned to speak. In fact, I've had many reports that some flavors of ice cream (the ultimate combination of sugar, fat and salt, all in one) will actually learn to speak their name. At night the ice cream will call out to them begging to be eaten. Sometimes they have to eat it just to shut it up.

I know you are just kidding about the talking ice cream. But it sounds like since we can't change our genes, we'll have to change our environment?

If we wish to survive and live happy, meaningful lives, we must adopt a strategy for achieving happiness that compensates for the changes we have created in our environment.

People often confuse happiness with pleasure. Pleasure is a response of our nervous system to specific stimulation. Food, sexual activity and even drugs can stimulate our nervous system in such a way that we experience pleasure.

Happiness is a word we use to describe a mood that occurs spontaneously when we perceive the balance of our experiences as highly positive.

Many people mistakenly assume that if they are not happy, they must lack pleasure in their lives. They assume they have a pleasure deficiency and go about trying to stimulate their nervous system.

Cocaine addicts are an excellent example. They will flush their entire lives down the drain to induce the pleasurable response associated with the use of cocaine. Some crack addicts have reportedly sold their infant children for a few rocks of cocaine. But no matter how much cocaine the addicts use, they will never be happy.

To achieve happiness requires a happiness strategy. It means being able to delay gratification and not being driven solely by short term, instant gratification, pleasure seeking behavior. We need to understand the difference between happiness and pleasure.   

Avoiding the Dangers of a Vegan Diet

Submitted on May 25, 2010 - 3:44pm

A diet that avoids all animal products including meat, fish, fowl, eggs and dairy products is called a vegan diet. Despite the proven benefits derived from avoiding the use of animal products in the diet, many vegans do not fare as well as they might. Not all vegan diets are created equally. Eliminating animal products from the diet does not guarantee a health promoting diet. Much of the benefit derived from eliminating the risks of animal products in the diet can be offset if the diet is not a health-promoting diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, raw nuts and seeds and sprouts and the variable addition of minimally processed whole grains and beans. Potato chips, french fries, alcohol, soda pop and chocolate might all be vegan but that hardly qualifies them as healthy. Vegetarians and vegans often consume large quantities of highly processed foods containing large amounts of oil, sugar, flour and salt. If they believe that their avoidance of animal products alone will grant them dispensation from the devastating consequences of the dietary pleasure trap, they may be sadly disappointed. They say that some vegans get headaches from their halos being too tight. A vegan diet may be undertaken for many reasons: health, social, environmental and/or spiritual. A vegan diet may help you get into heaven, but it will not delay how quickly you get there, unless you avoid some potential pitfalls. In addition to the problems caused by the dietary pleasure trap resulting in the consumption of highly processed foods, vegans are subject to the deficiency of two important nutrients.

Vitamin B12 deficiency Vitamin B12 is produced only by bacteria. Rich sources of bacteria, including animal products, contain large quantities of this essential nutrient. The elimination of animal products in conjunction with modern Hygienic standards reduces the exposure to bacteria and thus vitamin B12. The reduced intake of vitamin B12 can lead to a depletion of vitamin B12 stores and eventually to vitamin B12 deficiency. Although it may take years or even decades to deplete body stores of vitamin B12, we have found this to be common in long-term vegan who do not supplement. A vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to numerous symptoms including neurological disturbances, and increased blood levels of the protein homocysteine. This elevated level of homocysteine causes inflammation in the blood vessels and increases the risk of heart disease. The most accurate way to assess the vitamin B12 status is to perform a blood test measuring homocysteine or methylmalonic acid. These two metabolites will increase when vitamin B12 deficiency is present. Oral supplementation of vitamin B12 in the form of methylcobalamin is thought to be the most efficient way to correct deficiency. A single, daily 1000 mcg tablet is sufficient to correct a B12 deficiency and maintain normal B12 status in most patients.

Vitamin D deficiency Vitamin D is a hormone that is formed naturally when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Thirty minutes of full body exposure can result in the formation of up to 10,000 IU of vitamin D and there is no risk of excess vitamin D forming from this natural route. There is a risk from sunburn from overexposure and burns should be avoided by carefully limiting your exposure to the sun. Sunburn can increase your risk of the formation of skin cancer and can contribute to the premature aging of the skin. The best way to insure optimum vitamin D levels of 35-50 units is by getting regular sunshine. If you cannot get adequate sun exposure a sun lamp may be the best alternative. If for some reason this does not result in a normal level of vitamin D then supplementation of vitamin D is an option. It is important to avoid excess vitamin D supplementation as excess vitamin D from supplements can be toxic. Most individuals can restore their levels with 1000 to 4000 IU per day of vitamin D3 (from either Lichen or sheep's wool). Some individuals may require higher doses in order to replenish depleted body stores. Once normal levels have been achieved, supplementation should be discontinued or reduced to the lowest levels needed to sustain optimum blood values. If at all possible, sunshine or a sunlamp should be used to sustain normal levels. Problems from vitamin D deficiency include: osteoporosis, immune suppression, chronic pain and some cancers, etc. The blood test for vitamin D status is 25-dehydroxy vitamin D. We suggest that vitamin B12 and vitamin D be routinely evaluated by including a homocysteine and 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test with each individual's periodic health checkup. Alan Goldhamer, D.C., is the founder of TrueNorth Health Center in California. He is the author of the Health Promoting Cookbook and co-author of The Pleasure Trap. Jennifer Marano, D.C., is the co-founder of TrueNorth Health Center. Contact the authors at: or at 707-586-5555