Loss Aversion and Manipulation


Childhood Obesity News has been looking at an illogical and destructive human trait. Often, a person who regrets not having or doing something will suffer from a sense of deprivation that is all out of proportion to the corresponding satisfaction they would have gained from having or doing the thing.

Here is another take on the “Loss Aversion” concept:

We feel the pain of loss more acutely than we feel the pleasure of gain. In other words, we may like to win, but we hate to lose.

Dr. Chuck Schaeffer calls it “a common trick our brains play on us,” this tendency to “fear loss more than we seek gains.” He says the psychological quirk is hard-wired, which affects the economy by being very useful to the marketers of goods and services. They manipulate minds with the carrot-and-stick approach. If we buy their product, we also buy the privilege of considering ourselves smarter, hipper, and more popular than those who don’t buy it. That is the promise, and if the promise does not work, there is always the threat.

The threat is that we will be demonstrably “less than.” Advertisers shame us for not being enough, doing enough, or having enough. The propaganda known as advertising tells us that we are losers — and we hate to lose. But there is a path to redemption! To become winners, all we must do is transfer money from our pockets to theirs.

Overcoming toxic ideas

Dr. Pretlow holds that disordered overeating and obesity in youth stem from psychological problems and very much resemble an addictive process. Disordered overeating that leads to obesity is, by definition, an eating disorder. Other eating disorders are comfortably accepted as coming within the purview of psychiatrists and psychologists.

In relation to eating disorders and in many other areas of life, emotional considerations are generally misleading, and decisions based on them can be disastrous. But patients can learn the skills to overcome or set aside toxic ideas and impulses, and mental health professionals are the ones who can teach those skills. They are empowered to equip the people who are lost with tools to find their way out of the wilderness.

Many forces are at work to manipulate people into the mindsets that facilitate morbid obesity. But they can also be manipulated in the opposite, healthy way. Entities with bad intentions can mess with people’s minds; but mental health professionals can help to clear away the delusions and shore up the vulnerable parts of a person’s psyche. A confident, self-aware person does not succumb to the idea that buying things will provide a magic cure for sorrow, or believe that the world’s esteem depends on what she or he consumes.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Overcoming an Aversion to Loss,” NYTimes.com, 12/09/13
Source: “Mind Over Meal: Loss Aversion and the ‘Fear of Missing Out’,” TheDailyMeal.com, 06/03/15
Image by Tim Sheerman-Chase

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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