Old Thoughts and New Applications

As we have known all along, but need to keep learning, behavior pretty much all starts between the ears.

Thousands of years ago, ancient philosophers wrote up the very best ideas. Socrates said, “Just as one person delights in improving his farm, and another his horse, so I delight in attending to my own improvement day by day.” Epictetus said, “Adopt new habits… Consolidate your principles by putting them into practice.” Marcus Aurelius, known as the philosopher king, was a champion of the self-improvement concept. Since those days, everything we have heard and read about habits is pretty much repetition and rephrasing.

What about obesity?

“Moderation must be our delight” was a catchphrase back then. The authors on this site say that adherents to the Stoic philosophy thought human bodies should be maintained “in fighting shape — at fighting weight” because life is, in one sense, a battle. The writers at DailyStoic.com sum it up:

They also knew… that when we feel awful, we act awfully. A person disgusted with themselves has less patience for others. A person who easily loses their breath, more easily loses their temper… or their self-control. We must avoid the vice of overdoing our overeating.

If you can cultivate good habits, you can survive — even thrive on — what lies ahead. If you relapse and fall to the level of your worst habits, these hard times will only be harder.

Their list of major precepts from the ancients includes advice to get up early, walk a lot, and connect with other people (especially the ones you love). Every day we should read the works of knowledgeable others, journal our personal experiences and thoughts, and mentally review the day before ending it.

And “make time for mastery.” In practical terms, what does this mean? Not to let ourselves stagnate in the “rut of competence.” We need to embrace “profitable difficulty” by perfecting the skills we already have and perfecting new ones. If happiness is what we seek, there is none greater than the pursuit of excellence, which means constant self-improvement, which involves a lot of habit-formation skills.

When eating is a habit

Anything we do several times a day, like eating, is bound to be encrusted with habits.
Plato recommended what today we might call the Mediterranean diet, emphasizing “cereals, legumes, fruits, milk, honey and fish.” A scholarly paper says,

[M]eat, confectionery and wine should be consumed only in moderate quantities. Excesses in food lead to ailments and therefore should be avoided. Plato considers physicians responsible for the regulation of human diet, for medicine is a science and not merely an art as in the case of cookery.

The BrainWeighve smartphone app can help with good habit formation in several ways. As one example, it acts as an accountability partner by asking the user to divulge various facts and reacting to them like a mentor. It also connects humans to each other, to lend mutual aid and support.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Power of Habits: What The Ancients Knew About Making Good Ones & Breaking Bad Ones,” DailyStoic.com, undated
Source: “Dietetics in ancient Greek philosophy: Plato’s concepts of healthy diet,” ResearchGate.net, August 2001
Image by BrainyQuotes

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

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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