I Can’t do Anything Right (Plus Some Important Stuff on Overeating/Obesity)

Months ago I was interviewed for a British television show called Weird Connections. I recently received a copy of the program on DVD and have posted my segment below. Take a look if you’d like to see me at my most unintelligent and nonsensical (note my annotations) and then read on for what I would have said if I wasn’t a complete moron.

Essentially, this show was reporting on connections between overeating and various factors, ideally creating important insights into the nature of obesity. The program was broken down into five segments, each dedicated to a not necessarily obvious connection.

Although not based on a large-scale study, the first segment noted how visual cues play an important role in eating. In an interesting experiment, two young women sat down to eat a bowl of tomato soup. One woman’s bowl was rigged so that soup was funneled into the bowl from below the table. In other words, she could never finish the bowl of soup; it was virtually bottomless. That woman continued eating long past her counterpart (who had stopped when her bowl was empty), thinking that she was just a slower eater. In reality, the visual cue of seeing the food prompted her to eat more. This phenomenon is related to this post I wrote about the horrible parenting philosophy of “eat everything on your plate.” The results of the bottomless soup bowl were supported by a second study which demonstrated that people tend to eat less when blindfolded. These people seemed to be more in touch with their inner feelings of satiety when not distracted by a plate with food on it.

In the third segment, Italian Psychologist Ricardo Pinyati noted similarities between overeaters and those with pathological gambling. He reported that both groups of people tend to seek out immediate rewards, to the detriment of their health (by impulsively overeating) or finances (by excessive betting). In other words, food can act as a drug, a way to self-medicate, not unlike drug use, drinking or smoking. Dr. Pinyati’s work supports the idea that if people can control urges for immediate gratification, some may be able to combat their own obesity.

In part four, Psychologists here in the states found that chimpanzees were able to distract themselves from the urge to eat candy from a machine. When the chimps jumped at the chance to eat the sweets, they only got a small amount. However, they were able to learn that by using toys and pictures to distract themselves – thereby controlling the urge to grab the candy from the machine – they could get larger rewards later. The chimps essentially inhibited their cravings, so perhaps humans could do the same?

Part five is where the “expert” (me) came in.* Without knowing about these other studies, my job was to simply comment on the idea of using food as a form of self-medication, as well as distraction as a means to inhibit urges to eat. In other words, if time/space can be created between the craving for food and the action of eating, perhaps people would be able to make more sound choices about their food intake. In short, is it worth trying to replicate the study of the chimps with people? Could it lead to a decrease in overeating and/or obesity?

This isn’t rocket science which, sadly, makes my incoherent ramblings all that much more pathetic. I’m usually quite comfortable in front of small groups, but like my mother always says to her friends, “Oh yes, my Rob is quite the attention whore, but put lights and a camera in front of him and he turns into a nervous sack of imbecility.”

That said, the moral of the story is that the connections in the studies suggest that the psychological component behind overeating/obesity is pronounced. This promotes a more positive outlook on the problem, given that we have much more control over our minds than other factors involved (e.g., genetics, metabolism). If these small-scale experiments are the real deal, those struggling with weight will have more treatment options at their disposal.

So there it is. I got my wish to be on television and you hopefully learned something about overeating and obesity. If you own a gun, please mail it to me so that I may shoot myself in the head.

* Before the Cornell police show up at my door, let me clear up a few issues that the producers missed. I’m not formally affiliated with Cornell University. I did my post-doctoral fellowship at New York University/Cornell Medical Center, but I don’t work there currently. I’m also not a formally trained expert on eating disorders. As you may know, I work with a lot of obese patients who are having weight loss surgery, but this video paints me as a researcher who is on the pulse of the latest breakthroughs in weight loss. So why did they pick me for this topic? My guess is as good as yours, although I suspect it has something to do with no one else being interested.

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44 Responses to “I Can’t do Anything Right (Plus Some Important Stuff on Overeating/Obesity)”

  1. I was expecting blood shed….ya know, deer in headlights, and then diarrhea of the mouth. Instead, it was death my paper cut, nothing too bad, but at the end it still smarted. 😀

    (Actually, it really wasn’t bad at all. It is REALLY hard to pull off soundbites, it really is an art.)

  2. Rebecca says:

    That’s so cool! You’re famous! 😀

    You look a lot younger than I imagined. I’m sure you get that a lot… I do, too, and remember that when I’m fifty, it will be an advantage.

    And you did not look dumb AT ALL, what the heck are you talking about?

  3. Honest Abe says:

    Since when do we not need alcohol to survive? This guy in the video is way, way off.

    Btw: the other guy shoving food in his face, just turned me into an anorexic. Sick.

  4. Hard on yourself much Dr. Rob?

  5. Hannah says:

    Hm now my girlish crushes has a face to focus on. Love the sound of your voice. Oh yea and good on the stuff you said about obesity and distraction. I think you explained distancing the urge and impulse very well. What sort of formalized setting do you envision?

  6. Adam says:

    wow you look a lot different than I imagined. Honestly, you’re much younger than I had thought… Which, in my opinion, you ought to take as a compliment.

    Also, I was convinced. I mean, it’s kind of underhanded for them to portray you as something you’re not, but I would have believed it.

  7. James Pilachowski says:

    The interview went well, but maybe you’re like me, because I hate watching myself on video.

  8. Carolyn says:

    Dr. Rob on British TV… Excellent!

  9. Nora says:

    We all know it doesn’t really matter what you say on TV as long as you look like you know what you’re talking about, and you look good doing it. Success!

  10. Tracie says:

    Don’t be so hard on yourself, Rob! I thought the segment was cool and you did a great job. I second Hannah’s question: what kind of setup were you thinking of?
    You look disturbingly like an adult version of my first boyfriend. I think it’s the haircut. Please don’t develop an unhealthy obsession with Korn or I might be forced to resign from the Doc Rob Superfan Club.

  11. DA PREZ says:

    Tracie you’re all talk. I wager you would never be able to change your homepage from shrinktalk.net to anything else.

  12. Longtime Listener, Firstime Caller says:

    I really liked when you were tying the rope on the fence. Good job!

  13. Jamie says:

    Your head isn’t THAT big.

  14. T.J. says:

    Hey Dr. Rob.

    Glad to see the post-Rudius continuation of your writing.

    I know this doesn’t have much to do with psychology, rather, physiology (did I spell that right?), but there are some studies that have been done showing a strong correlation between the rise in obesity cases since the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and the more prevalent use of high-fructose corn syrup in place of cane sugar as an additive in fruit drinks, soft drinks and other various sweets.

    The deal is that your body has a much harder time metabolizing high-fructose corn syrup and simply has a tendency to convert it into fat, rather than burning it off like cane sugar.

    This has nothing to do with food addicts and general American laziness, but it is an alternative theory as to why we’re getting fatter as a whole. Since you do some work with the obese, I thought I’d pass that along.

    Anyway, the new site looks great, and, to be honest, you didn’t seem that bad on this television program. Perhaps they could’ve given you a little more time to build upon your statements, no?

    Keep up the good work!

  15. Jeff says:

    You look like my philosophy professor from last year. It will be a bit strange reading your work since I now hear your voice narrating the material.

  16. Amber says:

    I would like to see the vid but I have been gettin the dreaded X box instead of video feed on many sites. Don’t suppose you could fwd this to my e-mail please Rob?

  17. Rach says:

    I always pictured you as having a beard, Rob.

  18. Pittsburgh Cowgirl says:

    Good job Rob!!! I thought you gave a very real description of the human condition. Their version of the clip should have included your subtitles!! Have fun!!

  19. Hugues says:

    First of all it really wasn’t that bad. If I saw this on TV I would not remembered about you but I would not have been sad either.

    Second thing, and I mean no offence, i’m really sick and tired that people are willing to “downgrade” human sciences. There are some real researcher looking at all these subject. With experimental evidences.

    Dr. Rob: Being forgotten is a passion of mine, so thank you for helping make that dream come true. As to your second point…I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Nobody is willing to get an ingineer whitout specialisation in a subject, but for human science it’s ok.

    O well, lets hope it’s going to change one day.

  20. Jason says:

    Congrats on the TV appearance — hope u feel a little bit less suicidal on ur next appearance (i did a small radio thing recently, and it ended up rather horribly) 🙂

    P.S. I had somehow assumed u looked like an in-between of ur actual face and that of Dr. Katz’s. Ha ha. Oops.

  21. Pippi says:

    Dr. Rob, I loved your video, maybe it was just getting to see you that I liked and being able to hear your voice for once. You are very sexy!

  22. Blobfish says:

    Holy cockshits, I’ve seen this episode a few times but I never noticed the name.

  23. Francisco says:

    You Rock Doctor Rob!
    don’t be so hard on yourself did great

  24. Phil says:

    Is this really you? From reading your blog I expected you to have a huge head, rosy cheeks and a goofy haircut. With a little bit of confidence you should be getting more pussy than you know what to do with

  25. John says:

    I thought you were black.
    I imagined you with an afro.

  26. Lindsey says:

    I would have to agree, everyone hates the way they look/sound on video, just the way it is 🙂

  27. TJ: There has been some interesting changes in the High-Fructose to Sucrose ratio…..as in H-F has been increased, and Sucrose decreased, in an effect to save money in food production, even though it is REALLY bad for everyone’s health.

  28. Alex says:

    Wow Dr Rob-you’re cute! Don’t worry, you didn’t sound like a complete moron (from what I could tell-I was too busy paying attention to your face)

  29. Aurini says:

    Dude, you look like a badass. All you need is some wraparound sunglasses, a dark trenchcoat, and a glock and you could be a Paranormal Investigator.

  30. Tia says:

    Holy crap, Dr. Rob, you’re not a 5’3 oompa loompa looking dork like I imagined! That was meant to be a compliment. You’re better looking than I thought (that was also meant to be a compliment). I guess I never bothered to google your picture. I can enjoy your blog in a creepier way now that I know what you look like. The image of you looking out at Harlem will forever be imprinted in my mind.

    Don’t be so hard on yourself. We are always our worst critiques, regardless of how unwarranted they are.

  31. Stacey says:

    Dr. Rob is a hottie!

  32. Anonymous says:

    you know, I was just thinking to myself the other day, there should be more info out there about this stuff… and here comes this post!…

  33. Kevin Gassen says:

    Thank you for writing this, it means a lot to me. I have struggled with an addiction for most of my life, so what you wrote here was very meaningful to me. If you’d like to see my blog it’s here. Thanks again for this blog – it is really informative.

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  35. range says:

    Good show mate. Rob, I didn’t expect you to look that young. Also, I imagined you with the facial hair, for some reason.

    Don’t worry about looking dumb, you don’t. Also, you look a bit like a geek. That’s nothing bad though!

  36. Kanoa says:

    Well well well, you’re pretty hot Dr. Rob!

    I challenge Alex and Hannah to a duel.

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  40. Cathryn says:

    Your fucking hot not gunna lie.

  41. suzy pepper says:

    Your FAQ #11 – are you sure? I don’t need the free therapy, even.

  42. Erica says:

    I dunno, I think your mother’s voice is still reverberating in your head, because I didn’t see a thing wrong there. ?

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