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The Spiritual Roots of Weight Control

An Interview with Steve DeVore by Melissa Anderson

Steven DeVore is the founder of SyberVision Systems and the co-author of “The Neuropsychology of Weight Control,” “The New Neuropsychology of Weight Control” and 28 other self-improvement programs based on his research in neuropsychology at Stanford University. Steve, in a partnership with the LDS Church also created and authored “The Worlds 100 Greatest Books,” The World’s 100 Greatest People” and “The World’s 50 Greatest Composers” audio collections based on a learning retention system he developed at Stanford. In addition Steve is the co-inventor of the ForeverMint/SuppressMint two-hour slow-dissolve dot-sized breath mint and the executive producer of the best-selling LDS/BYU FARMS Book of Mormon documentary “Journey of Faith.” Steve and his wife Kathy live in Orem, Utah and are the parents of seven children and 21 grandchildren.

Melissa Anderson is a freelance writer from Dallas, Texas.

“The ability to envision ourselves as lean, energetic and happy and then to draw upon that image as the source of our motivation and inspiration is in embryo, the same power that our Creator used to create our world. All things were first created spiritually before they were naturally soon the face of the earth. (Moses 3:5)

Q. Before we get into a discussion on the spiritual roots of weight control what’s the meaning of the word “neuropsychology” in the title “The Neuropsychology of Weight Control.” The “neuropsychology of” in title seems ominous and complicated.

A. It’s really quite simple. Neuropsychology is the science and study of how the brain influences our body and behavior. I was fortunate enough to work 8 years at Stanford University doing research with the father of neuropsychology Dr. Karl Pribram. 

Dr. Garth Fisher, my co-author, discovered that our weight is governed by a mechanism in the brain he calls the “fat thermostat” — and that we can program that mechanism to burn excess fat by certain eating, exercise and thinking actions. 

Thus, the use of the word “neuropsychology” in the title.

When I first learned about Dr. Fisher’s weight control research at his highly respected BYU Human Performance Research Center (Dr. Fisher was the founder) and how he helped hundreds of chronically overweight people lose their excess body fat and keep it off I was impressed by his brain, body and mind approach.

Our brain’s fat thermostat regulates how much fat our body stores. Dr. Fisher learned the overweight people initially got that way by eating a diet rich in refined carbohydrates (white flour and sugar-based foods) and saturated fats. Then, in an effort to lose the excess weight, they went on a series of low-calorie, near starvation yo-yo diets.

The fat thermostat interpreted each low calorie diet as the onset of starvation. To protect the body from starvation the fat thermostat caused fatigue in an effort to conserve body fat and increased the appetite (hunger) for more “white” quick energy foods and fat. 

The hunger becomes so intense the dieter eventually is overwhelmed and binges on the quick energy “white” and fat foods.. The dieter gains all of the weight back plus an additional 10% to protect against future bouts of starvation. With repeated bouts of dieting and binging, the subjects gained more and more weight.

The fat thermostat works to maintain the newer high weight levels by keeping the cravings high and energy low. The result is obesity over a period of time — so much so that most overweight people think it’s impossible to lose weight and they resign themselves to a life of obesity, low energy, low self-esteem and unahppiness.

Dr. Fisher discovered that the fat thermostat can be re-programmed to burn fat not by dieting but rather by following the Word of Wisdom by eating plenty of good nutritious food — vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes, roots, moderate (spare) amounts lean meat such as chicken, white port and fish, — drink plenty of water (80% of the body is water) and to engage in moderate exercise such as walking.

When Dr. Fisher fed his subjects until they were full and satisfied and got them physically moving their fat thermostat relaxed, gave up it’s protective guard against starvation and the excess weight and body fat began to melt away. Within a matter of a few months to a year (depending on how much wight they had to lose) all of Dr. Fisher’s subjects were able to achieve their ideal weight — the weight the Creator of their bodies meant them to be.

Q. So how did you become involved with Dr. Fisher?

When I was doing research at Stanford I read about his research in the LDS Church’s Ensign Magazine and in the BYU Alumni magazine. I attended graduate school at BYU. My study was in organizational behavior/communication and I focused on the human nervous system as a model of the ideal organizational communications network. 

The brain/body elements of Dr. Fisher’s research fascinated me but I was also fascinated by the behavioral part of his program — how did his subjects remain motivated to start and stay with a new approach  to eating, moderate exercise, thinking and living that in many cases took up to a year to achieve the desired results.How were they able draw the intestinal fortitude, patience and staying power to sustain a consistent effort that over a period of time would lead to optimal weight loss?

Q. Is this where the famous Stanford Marshmallow Study comes into play?

Yes, you may recall that President Uchdorf in his April 2010 conference talk “Continue in Patience” talked about the famous Stanford Marshmallow Study. The purpose of the study was to understand how the control of delayed gratification, the ability to wait to obtain something that one wants. In the 1960’s study of 600 4 to 6 year-old children, the children were led into a room empty of distraction where a marshmallow treat was placed on a table. The children could eat the marshmallow, the researchers said, but if they waited 15 minutes without giving in to the temptation, they would be rewarded a second marshmallow. One third of the children readily gave in to eating the marshmallow, one-third vacillated and one-third delayed gratification long enough to get a second marshmallow.

The researchers followed the children for 30 years. Those children who gave into impulse had dramatically lower educational levels, lower incomes, poorer health, lower self esteem, poorer relationships than the children who were able to delay the instant gratification impulse. So, the study concluded that our ability to delay gratification, to be self-motivated and disciplined and forego the impulses of instant gratification in the pursuit of our goals is the key to success in life — including losing weight if our fat stores are overly abundant.

In Dr. Fisher’s weight control program the average weight (fat) loss was 1.5 lbs to 3.lbs per week by eating, not dieting. So, if a person has 50 pounds to lose it would take up to 22 weeks or 5 months of consistently applying correct principles to lose the fat. Most of us have been programmed to believe through false advertising that weight loss can be instant or overnight by falling prey to gimmicks like miracle diets, pills, powders or potions. In reality we all know from sad experience that there is no shortcut to weight loss. It takes time, effort and the steady and continual application of correct principles.   

Part of my research at Stanford was to see if the ability to delay gratification as demonstrated in the Stanford Marshmallow study was a skill that could be learned and if so, how could it be learned. So, I had great interest in Dr. Fisher’s program — not only the relationship between the brain, body fat and weight loss but how people could start and stay motivated over a period of months to achieve their weight loss goals.

So I teamed up with Dr. Fisher to have my company, SyberVision Systems, publish “The Neuropsychology of Weight Control” — an easy-to-follow- self-paced audio, video and workbook course that led each person through the weight loss experience applying Dr. Fisher’s fat thermostat and my delayed gratification principles.

Within two years we sold 1.3 million programs at $250 each in 1980 dollars. And soon, the testimonials came pouring in. And, very similar to the marshmallow study one-third of the people didn’t benefit from the program and one-third were highly successful. What was the difference between the successful and unsuccessful groups. Those who were successful were able to stay motivated through the months it took them to succeed in their weight loss goals just like the successful children in the marshmallow study.

Q. So what did you learn from the successful weight losers?

After a number of years we went back to the successful weight losers, interviewed and surveyed them to determine how they stay motivated to start and succeed at their weight loss efforts. From this study we developed a new powerful new system of self-motivation, self-discipline or how to not to give in to the need for instant results or instant gratification.

Based on what I learned from the successful people who were able to lose weight  I wrote a program called “The Neuropsychology of Self-Discipline” that focused on how to develop the habit of self-discipline — the ability to set a long-term goal and to see it through, with passion and enthusiasm, until the goal was achieved — no matter how many months or years it took to achieve — without giving up.

Dr Fisher and I also applied these findings to a new and improved weight  control program called “The New Neuropsychology of Weight Control” — a super-charged version of the original with a powerful self-motivational/self-disciple component that allows people to be successful in their weight control and health endeavors.

Q. Now, what does all of this have to do with the spiritual roots of weight control?

We learned that the power to start and sustain a long term weight loss effort is really the power of faith as defined by Joseph Smith in his lectures on faith. Joseph Smith said faith is the substance and assurance of things hoped for but not seen and is the principle of and moving cause of all action and power in temporal and spiritual concerns. 

What does this mean?

 Faith comes from our ability to form mental images of an ideal future state of being in our imaginations and to become highly motivated by that vision until it becomes a reality. We as humans have the unique ability to use our imagination to create emotionally rich and detailed images (substance) of where we see ourselves in the future (things hoped for). 

In neuropsychology we learn that the images we create in our imaginations are the language of the brain.  The images we generate and hold within our imaginations are the source of all of our actions. What we do — the actions we take — are first conceived of and developed as images in the imagination. This is what Moses referred to when he said that all things physical are first created spiritually. This unique power of the mind is but an embryonic expression of what our Creator uses to create worlds. In our case, it is the power to craft and create our lives.

And, we learn that the richer the images are in sight, sound, touch, taste smell — the more substance they have — the more we are motivated and driven to take the action necessary — no matter how difficult or time consuming the action is— to realize and achieve the imagined image—the desire of the heart.

In neuropsychology we call compelling images of desired outcomes “images of achievement” or “vision.” We define vision as an emotion-provoking mental image of a desirable future state that currently doesn’t exist but impossible and achievable.  The richer, clearer and emotionally charged the vision the more motivated we are to not only achieve the vision but to acquire the knowledge, skills, patience, staying power and determination necessary for its materialization and fulfillment.

An example of this use of vision is the great renaissance artist Michelangelo. He was known for the exquisite detail he employed in his sculptures such as the David. When asked what was the source of his genius he replied, “What I sense, I desire. What I desire I create.” 

Once he found a perfect stone he would imagine that his subject was trapped or entombed in the stone. “My genius,” he said, “is not carving into the stone but freeing with my chisel the imprisoned image I see within the stone.” 

If his work did not match the exactness of  his vision he would discard it start over with a new piece of stone and work until his vision was complete. You can notice this if you go to Venice to see his David statue. Lining the path to this statute at the end of a hall you’ll see the dozens of unfinished partially carved stones that he rejected as imperfect — all leading up to the perfectly, finished David.

We learned it was this type of vision that motivated the 400,000 + successful users of our original “Neuropsychology of Weight Control” program to succeed. By studying all of the  1.3 million people who purchased the original program we learned that the difference between success and failure was “vision.” The people who succeeded were able, after they had a simple knowledge of how their bodies worked, to create a rich, emotion provoking vision of not only what they would look when they achieved their ideal weight loss goal but how they would feel emotionally—how much better they would feel about themselves and how they would with more confidence interact with and relate to others. 

We also learned that after only two weeks of steady application of the correct weight loss principles the “vision” became believable and possible because of the positive changes in energy, in well-being, in mood, and looser fitting clothes they experienced in those first two weeks. These first two weeks reinforced and fortified the “vision,” welded the resolve and fueled the long-term commitment of our successful customers.

I came to appreciate the prophetic genius of Joseph Smith’s understanding of the power of “vision” or temporal faith as the moving cause and power behind of all human human action and achievement. What Joseph Smith knew then in 1835  took science — in particular— neuropsychology — 150 years to discover and quantify. 

Q. So you believe that faith is at the root of ones ability to change from overweight to lean?

Yes, but there’s one other spiritual component that few people realize.

I often ask people what is the purpose of food. Of course the answer is to sustain life. Food provides the energy necessary to sustain all of the bodily functions necessary to live. Food is broken down by the cells of our body to produce energy. But there’s another purpose of food and energy. The food we eat actually produces more energy than we need to survive, surplus energy. 

I ask, for what purpose? If we define the purpose of our life as a similitude of the Savior’s life and his purpose — that is to serve in order to”bring to pass the eternal life of men” (immortality is already taken care of through the resurrection) then we have a focal point which to direct our excess or stored energy — to make it kinetic — to take action. 

If we don’t have a well-defined purpose then the excess energy we produce remains stored in the body as potential energy or excess fat storage.

I’m not saying that overweight people are purposeless. What I’m saying is that if we dedicate our lives to serving and view food as the physical fuel we need to energize our service then we will “eat to live and to serve” rather than “live to eat.” I’ve learned that when our successful customers found a higher purpose in life and viewed their desire to have good health and well-being (energy) as a motive to serve, their weight loss efforts were easier and more productive.

When this sense of higher purpose was intertwined with and part of their “vision” their ability to persist and persevere through the challenges of changing their eating habits and lifestyle were dramatically enhanced.

The exciting thing about “The New Neuropsychology of Weight Control” program is that it is is faith (“vision”) and service (“purpose”) and Word of Wisdom- based. What’s interesting to me is that the 1.3 million people who purchased “The Neuropsychology of Weight Control were not LDS yet they experienced and applied LDS principles of living (faith, purpose, the Word of Wisdom) and they associated this with BYU, where the program was developed and thus the Church. 

We’ve aware of many instances where the program has been instrumental in individuals and families being receptive to missionaries and then joining the Church. It’s amazing to me that when we’re engaged in a good cause (D&C 58:27) how blessings seem to compound and inure to all.   

To learn more about “The New Neuropsychology of Weight Control and to take advantage of a limited time 50% discount to LDS Living readers go to www.GetLeanNow.info.

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