Behavior: A Volitional Choice that Requires Strategy
Paul Skinner, MS RD LD

As I continue to read in many journals and hear in the news media, obesity is becoming quite clearly the number one health problem in the country. Despite all the counseling, diet drugs and other purported solutions, the average American continues to get fatter.

Obesity and lack of control of food intake are not surprising. It is like the episode of Star Trek, “The Trouble with Tribbles,” about little furry creatures called “Tribbles” that had been taken out of their predator-filled environment by some traveling peddler. The Tribbles ate everything in sight and multiplied asexually, the end result being the Starship Enterprise overflowed with them, so that one could not walk or move at all without running into a Tribble.

Similarly, we were taken out of our normal environment during World War II, when obtaining food was difficult. The Army discovered that many of their recruits at that time were extremely malnourished. Today, however, everyone has access to cheap calorie-dense foods. Being a prosperous country with great abundance, even poor people are fat. You will not find, in the United States, Third World conditions of malnutrition, but rather a “more is better” (sound familiar?) attitude that permeates every all-you-can-eat restaurant.

You may be wondering why a nutritionist would be discussing such a topic as behavior - or what some would call “behaviorism.” The answer is that licensed nutritionists/dietitians are thoroughly trained in the behavioral sciences along with counseling skills.

Before going any further, I want to quote a passage from Heavy Duty II: Mind and Body: “The central idea of Skinner’s philosophy, which he elaborated in his best-selling book, BEYOND FREEDOM AND DIGNITY, is that ‘man is not conscious,’ ‘nothing more than a ‘stimulus-response automaton.’ Perhaps the best response to such unconscionable nonsense was Ayn Rand’s comment, ‘In his case, I believe it; B.F. Skinner is not conscious!’”

Many people know that it is bad to smoke, drink, or eat too much; however, they continue to do so. Are they responding to some stimulus beyond their control or are they a “victim of circumstance,” as Curly (the most famous of the Three Stooges) would say? B. F. Skinner (no relation of mine) would seem to take Curly’s side. Obesity, however, is both an unhealthy and debilitating result; therefore, many “victims” seek out “silver bullets”. As we know, diets do not work; and for one reason or another, people cannot control their caloric intake, allowing obesity to inch ahead of heart disease and diabetes as the number one health problem. So was B.F. spewing B.S., or does he have a point?

If it is maintaining a healthy weight, losing body-fat or creating a muscular physique, I would argue that volitional effort, logical thinking, and strategy are tools to achieve one’s goals. I would further add that Skinner’s invalid hypothesis has led many to “cop out” and buy into the notion that the reason they overeat or become addicted to alcohol or drugs is due to their unhappy childhood or some genetic defect. In other words, they are simply victims of circumstance.

The problem of copping out starts with looking for the “silver bullet” that I mentioned earlier. When one has allowed himself to become overweight, it is typically a stealthy process over a long period of time. Some examples are drinking too much beer during the college years, mothers who gain weight with each pregnancy, while others cease their high school and college activities and simply become sedentary.

In an article by Mike entitled “Metabolic Momentum” for Muscle & Fitness in September of 1980, he stated: “All out effort of the high-intensity, Heavy Duty variety requires a lot of motivation and actual physical and mental courage. It is obvious that a well-trained body is capable of such effort at any time. But due to the very large demands on the body’s resources and adaptive mechanism (such stress would be potentially life-threatening if continued too long), the mind will ordinarily balk at such effort.”

As you can see, the Mentzers had to employ strategy upon each visit to the gym. Mike and Ray Mentzer did not just mosey on out of their homes and turn on the steam for a high-intensity workout. They had to cultivate that enthusiasm and literally work themselves up into a warrior state of mind. Mike knew that each increase in intensity and each gain in muscle was not a survival requirement, so he had to study philosophy and listen to motivating classical music in order to carry out his battle plan. Therefore, it is incumbent on each trainee to ready the mind to engage in higher levels of effort.

When dieting for a bodybuilding contest, the requirements for definition are challenging. Definition is quite simply a low level of bodyfat achieved through calorie reduction. It is difficult at times to maintain a weight loss requirement of such extremes, and it is important that one does not allow oneself to accumulate excess adipose tissue. This will result in dieting for an undesirable period of time, slowing down the metabolism and making it much more difficult to peak for the appointed contest.

Whether weight loss or weight maintenance, one must learn to exercise three areas of discipline. Actually, they are more like strategies rather than the application of sheer will power. They are as follows:


In order to maintain control over your appetite, it is of utmost importance to sustain a steady blood sugar throughout the day. Each meal needs to have a combination of protein, good carbs, and good fats (read my articles on carbohydrates and fat). This will allow for a slow breakdown of carbohydrate into the bloodstream, thus staving off hunger. It is important also to eat three to five meals a day and not to allow more than five hours go by without eating. Also, do not fill up on caffeinated beverages or diet sodas between meals because they stimulate the appetite; drink water instead.


My wife thinks I am a glutton because I cannot simply savor something. My mother use to say, “Paul do you have to hog it all down?” I would always politely answer, “Yes mother I really do.” I told my wife that if she put a bag of “Hershey’s Kisses” in front of me that I would eat them all. So I warned her, DON’T BRING THEM INTO THE HOUSE.

This is probably the biggest downfall. When I counsel people I tell them to get rid of the trigger foods in their home. Do not keep a case of cola in your home if you have a problem with cola. The same goes for cookies, chips, or any other snack food. You must make it as difficult as possible to obtain that food. Use laziness as your ally; if you have go run out to the store or fast-food restaurant, you are less apt to make a run for that addictive food (especially in those cold winter months).

Do not go shopping when you are hungry. This may fit in the cognitive category; but if your blood sugar is low while you are at the grocery store, then an otherwise healthful place can be become a world of processed garbage foods which you would normally not buy after eating a balanced meal. It is also important that you choose restaurants that you know offer healthy foods and reasonable food portions. I realize this can be difficult, but planning each day is one of the best strategies when it comes to cooking or eating out.


When our blood sugars become erratic, we “rationalize” and therefore choose foods that tend to give us a quick fix (sugar high). We eventually come crashing down and tend to choose the same simple carbohydrates that cause up and down swings in our blood sugar - and before you know it we are on our way to eating too many calories and gaining unwanted bodyfat. Simple carbohydrates also tend to cloud our thinking because of the reactive hypoglycemia following a high-sugar meal.


The three strategies of mastering your caloric intake are analogous to the three legs of a stool. If one of the legs becomes unstable, then the entire stool tips over. These strategies also reinforce each other and allow you be in control. Remember, for thousands of years we have adapted to just obtaining food to survive, our bodies holding onto calories for that very purpose.

Mike had to use strategies to motivate himself before his very intense workouts or else they would have lapsed into a haphazard affair. Strategy can work for your muscle-building, weight management or fat loss goals - if you make the volitional effort to apply them daily.

This article is written exclusively for and Joanne Sharkey. It cannot be used as a download for another website or used in any form of publication in part or in whole, unless written permission is granted by the above copyright owners. Article Copyright © 2004 by Paul Skinner. All rights reserved. Mike Mentzer quotations used with permission from Joanne Sharkey, President of Mentzer-Sharkey Enterprises, Inc. © 2002-2004.

This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject covered. It is written with the understanding that neither the Website owner nor the Copyright owner is engaged in rendering medical advice or services. Before starting this or any exercise and nutritional program, you should always consult with your doctor and obtain a thorough check up.

Home Welcome Articles Tips Books Catalog

© 2004 Mentzer-Sharkey Enterprises, Inc. Site by FX Media, Inc.