Shaming Your Way to Weight Loss

One of my colleagues told me that he keeps his treats (currently, chocolate covered popcorn) in another colleague’s office. That makes him less likely to nosh, because he has to walk down the hall to get the treats. I pointed out that he has raised the fixed cost of noshing, which will indeed reduce the number of incidents of noshing; but each time he goes to his colleague’s office, he will eat more. Probably less in total, but more binging. He admitted that this policy of raising costs might not be a good self-control mechanism, except that it is embarrassing to have the other colleague watch him pigging out on the treats. Fear of shame and embarrassment, rather than the fixed cost of walking down the hall, is the bigger deterrent to excess eating.


That's good, because I've long thought that the reason we have an obesity problem is that we don't do enough to make fat people feel bad about themselves.


The result will depend upon one's business and the type of relationship with the colleague.
1) business precludes your walking into colleague's office at any moment to retrieve desired snack... net may be decreased in noshing.
2) retrieval means unable to retrieve more than 1 handful - no bowls, napkins, plates for larger portions - that must be brought back to one's own office. If the "stash" is in (very) large containers, this will likely decrease intake. (As cited in Wasink's work, we tend to eat a percentage of the container, regardless of the container's size. Hence, if large container is in own office, this will decrease one's snacking intake.
3) great buddy and each entrance will result in both snacking - likely both will increase girth.

Even better - make certain that colleague MAKES you measure and log what you take to eat. This will is even better if you log in time and mood/activity (bored, hungry, anxious, ...)



Interesting on the face of it. Doesn't sound logical though.

Brian S

So he's motivated enough to stash the treats in a place where he will have to endure shame to get them, but not motivated enough to eschew purchasing and stashing them in the first place? Seems like a failed plan from the start.

Richard Simmons

Has your friend ever heard of resource allocation? Color cards that are used to limit consumption?

Not my idea, richard simmons' idea.


I've been told the best way to loose weight is shaking your head from left to right, and I asked "Is that all?"
And the Doc said "Yes! Everytime somebody offers you a snack, you just do it"


How about increasing the shame: get one of those bathroom scales that publishes each weight reading on twitter.


It has been a while since I've taken economics. Is the walk down the hall and the associated shame the opportunity cost?


@1 JohnMcG wins at deadpan sarcasm


Ahhh, the economic side of eating disorders.

I think your friend needs help.


I'm wondering if has the problem of his coworker snacking on his stash.


I was given the book Freakonomics as a gift. The giver was well meaning, but never understood my tastes. I threw it in the garbage, along with her books on surviving divorce and the meaninglessness of marriage and parenthood. These gifts were like books on military strategy given to imprisoned Germans officers after WW II. I am amazed by your series of articles re assinine faux economic permutations.


It's funny to see this today -- just Saturday I was thinking "I need to lose weight" and thought about what other methods I've tried, the motivation, and the effectiveness. For me, Shame (Guilt was the word I used, but I feel that in this context, they're very much the same) was the second least effective motivation technique I've used. The worst was a points-based system that I would reward myself after X points. That was too complicated to ever have a chance.

Unfortunately, my number one motivation (which involved some women I was chasing when I was in college) I have a hard time using anymore, now that I'm married...


Perhaps this is one reason skinny people have skinny friends (ref NYT blog: 'Is Obesity Contagious', 7/25/2007).

Captain Oblivious

I remember a comedian talking about this great weight-loss tape... not audio tape or video tape, but rather duct tape - just put it over your mouth so the twinkies don't get in!


Paulie, sorry, I gotta, gotta ask: throw out the book, but read the column? Why?


Don't even think of putting your food in my office. I'm not your mommy. Grow up.


Shame people. There's plenty of that already. How about taking the hormone simulating chemicals off the market. Congratulations to many food manufacturers who pulled transfats off the market. This is the first year American's didn't gain more weight and this is the first year American babies' weights were returning to the norm. Now if we can get the doctors to shut up, with their stupid ideas about what a healthy diet it (high carbohydrate-low fat) we might get somewhere.
I'd also suggest we work shame on many high sugar and high fat products. Like... families don't need to waste their money buying bottles and cans of sugar water to keep around the house. And children shouldn't be regularly drinking them. And ice creams don't need to be loaded with fat to be high quality. And cheese isn't a virtuous food, it's just a less tasty version of ice cream.
And while we're at it, lets make our streets and neighborhoods safe for children again so they can play outside. If it takes killing the pedophiles, let's do it.


Carol Abernathy

Notice John McG talks about fat people "themselves?" I too can be an expert on problems that others have, much easier than my own. As far as the effectiveness of shame, not even good dog trainers use that as a tool. Pride is a more effective one.


"Theories that diseases are caused by mental states and can be cured by will power are always an index of how much is not understood about the physical terrain of a disease."

-Susan Sontag