Friday, 24 October 2014

My life as a dog

Humans, with our enormous, complex brains, are excellent test subjects for conditioning. Conditioning is the formation of unconscious habit patterns of behaviour based on events that happen in our lives.  You know, like Pavlov's infamous dog.

I first learned about applying the concept of conditioning to PEOPLE from one of the wisest sparks of light I know, Shayla.  In my online mindful eating course we've been looking at how this concept applies to our eating habits.  It's not easy to step outside yourself and try to tease these things out.  This is also known as the "fish in the water doesn't know that it's wet" effect.

So my faithful companion (I'll call him FC to protect his identity) is giving me a paw with this exercise, since he's a dog and they know all about conditioning.

FC conditioning example: In my city many downtown businesses welcome your dog inside, and even give out treats.  There is one particular store that FC got a treat in ONCE, years ago.  We've been in many times since, but they don't give out treats anymore. And yet, every time we walk by this store, he really wants to go in.
Human application:  Many years ago, I actually enjoyed the taste of Diet Dr. Pepper, and felt great after drinking one.  I now feel sick after drinking it.  It actually makes my back hurt, which is confusing and troubling.  I know it's poison.  And yet, when I happen to encounter a Dr. Pepper opportunity in the afternoon, I really want one.  It's time to recognize that craving Dr. Pepper is pointless.

FC conditioning example: FC was afraid of having his collar put on him when I first got him.  He's a quirky guy.  So now he gets a little treat every morning when I put his collar on him.  This routine is a BIG DEAL with much excitement involved, because it precedes his morning walk. The second he hears the click of the buckle he's snuffling around looking for his cookie.  We both know it's not really about the cookie.
Human application: I've mentioned my fondness for fancy coffees before.  I get them decaf, so it's not like I have a physiological NEED for them.  I just love the routine of going into one of my favourite coffee shops, flipping through the newspaper, and enjoying the atmosphere.  It's not really about the coffee after all, but the peaceful break in my day.  I'm trying to acknowledge this and fully enjoy my fancy coffee break, instead of getting them to go.  Or, if I'm tempted to go drop almost 5 bucks at Coffeeco, maybe I just need a moment to sit in a sunny window and read the Globe and Mail.  I can do that for free at the public library if I really want to.  Their chairs are more comfy, anyway.

FC conditioning example: Since FC is part Labrador Retriever, I try to be careful with the amount of food he gets.  Sometimes he'll leave a few little kibbles behind in his bowl, and I always find this so odd.  I guess he's full.  No room for 5 kibbles.
Human application: This is an example of what it looks like to eat purely out of hunger, and to stop eating when the hunger is gone.  No conditioning - just straight up eating. Leaving food on my plate is a new phenomenon for me.

FC conditioning example: FC is showing signs of developing a new eating habit that I need to quash immediately. Recently while we have been enjoying relaxing weekend breakfasts, he has lurked past the plate of food that we have left at his nose height and large items have disappeared into his mouth.  He's like a magician.  Or a black hole.  First the full slice of peameal bacon, then the cinnamon bun.  This is new - he used to just take sneaky little licks of food when we left it at his nose height.  We are going to ensure that he does not succeed at this again, or else this will become a serious problem.
Human application: I made some very delicious homemade granola* (links to recipe below) a few weeks ago and brought a jar to work as an "emergency" snack.  I discovered that it is even more delicious with chocolate milk, and what do you know?  The next day I somehow had another snack "emergency".  I recognized the warning signs of a bad habit forming, and divested myself of the chocolate milk in the work fridge.  Looking after myself = making colleagues happy. 

FC conditioning example: FC came into my life as a 1 year old.  I don't know what his early eating experiences were.  I was determined not to have a dog that begs at the table, so I have NEVER fed him from the table, and nobody else is allowed to, either.  FC begs at the table anyway.  He is part Lab, after all.
Human application: I don't really know how all my early experiences may have shaped my beliefs and habits around food.  Some of them may go way, way back.  I might not be able to change all of them because they're deeply ingrained.  There are no skinny women in my family.  Recognize, accept, adapt.

*I found 2 new food-related blogs while searching out my granola recipe online.  These blogs are nicely written and aesthetically pleasing.  This is a popular recipe, and these two ladies explain why:

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