Design Thinking and Behavior : Fool Your Brain, Lose The Weight [Interview][Transcript]

Dr_Kyra_Bobinet_Weight_Control_Behavior_DesignGuest: Dr. Kyra Bobinet
Presenter: Neal Howard
Guest Bio: Dr. Kyra Bobinet is the CEO of engagedIN, a design firm using neuroscience to change behavior for which she received the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Innovator Award. Dr. Bobinet is a sought after national speaker who has founded health start-ups and created blockbuster products, health apps, big data algorithms, and evidence- based programs in mind-body & metabolic medicine. She earned her medical degree at UCSF School of Medicine and teaches health engagement at Stanford School of Medicine.

Segment overview: In this segment, Dr. Kyra Bobinet, a physician turned behavior designer, brain expert, and author of “Well Designed Life: 10 Lessons in Brain Science & Design Thinking for a Mindful, Healthy, & Purposeful Life”, will give some tips about weight control and tricks using behavior design to help keep the pounds off during the holiday season.


Health Professional Radio

Neal Howard: Hello and welcome to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host Neal Howard, thank you so much for listening with us today. The holidays are here, Thanksgiving just a couple of weeks away and that means food – lots and lots of food. That means family, that means behaviors, that means saying things doing things that we might regret for the entire year. It’s that time of year when families get together and you’ve got that one uncle or aunt that’s gonna say that thing that they always say.

B: (laugh)

N: Our guest in studio today is returning to talk with us, Dr. Kyra Bobinet. Now Dr. Bobinet is CEO of engagedIn, a design firm that uses neuroscience to change behavior and for her work in behavioral science, she’s received the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health Innovator Award. And she’s also a published Author, the author of “Well Designed Life: 10 Lessons in Brain Science and Design Thinking for Mindful Healthy and Purposeful Life.” And she’s here today to talk with us about how we, well we don’t necessarily have to gain all that weight, we don’t necessarily have to say that thing or do that thing that we do every time we get together for the holidays. How are you doing today Dr. Bobinet?

Dr. Kyra Bobinet: I’m doing very well Neal. Thank you very much for having me.

N: Thank you so much. Thanksgiving, Christmas here we are. It’s time to eat, gather with people that you haven’t seen for year at least. And try to act like everything is okay when sometimes it may not be okay. How do we combat it this year? We’ve tried so many years before, what’s gonna be different this year?

B: Well I think you know sure we need to apply behavior designed to things we would prefer to do versus things we would hope not to do. And one way to do that is to leverage what we know about the fast brain and slow brain.

N: Uh huh.

B: And so fast brain is everything we will do habitually, and slow brain is things that we idealize that we would do, that we want to do, that we wish to do differently.

N: Uh huh.

B: And so we have to set up environment and reminders and kind of a support system so that we go with what is on the slow brain and we prevent our fast brain from running the show.

N: So this “fast brain, slow brain” concept that you’re talking about, when it comes time to gather around the Thanksgiving dinner table with family, is it the fast brain that says “I want two, I want both the legs?”

B: Most definitely, and fights other people for them in fact, yes. So our fast brain if left to run the show will cost us to have regret. It will cost us to overeat, like you mentioned say things that we may not want to say – those kinds of things – just because we are trying to get the fastest distance between A and B or that to play a food into our stomach and a lot of us look forward to that. I personally raised in a family where it was an eating competition, it was kind of thought of. And so the way to do this differently is before hand when you’ve had a good meal and you want to think through, how do we want to make things differently, how do I want to keep from gaining weight because it’s really important right now to prevent weight gain because how people gain weight over the years is that they keep about 1 to 2 pounds each year net from the holidays, the season of carbs, right? So and these exact carbs are the ones drying belly fat which we know scientifically are different kind of fat cells than other fat cells, they’re hungrier. And the more belly fat cells we have the more we makes it difficult for our brains to ignore cravings specifically for fat and sugar. And so it just sets up a real spiral of being out of control. And that’s how you get 20 lbs. over weight over 10 years, it’s 1 to 2 lbs. a year. And it’s better more effective to control either moderate something in the holiday season than to have the best intentions after the New Year.

N: Now you mentioned regret, remorse basically guilt. You’re sitting with down the table, you’ve had too much to eat, you know you’ve had too much to eat. And you’ve got that physical feeling of I had too much to eat. Are we talking about a physical manifestation that causes guilt and remorse or is this an actual mental thing whereas even if we didn’t feel the physical effects of eating too much, just sitting there for extended amount of time – are talking about mental guilt or physical guilt or combination of the two?

B: I think it’s more social.

N: Ah okay.

B: I mean if you think about animals, lions will engorge themselves then they’re like lay there in the sun for a good 24, 40 hours because they don’t have a meal that often. And so if we are evolving from ancestors who succeeded and survived from other people by having these binges or eating whatever they could whenever they got it, they survived while other people starved. So it kind of we were descended from people who over indulge and eat food when they had it. Now that the problem is that now we’re surrounded by too much food. And we have to reverse engineer that and figure out a way to satisfy our brains and organize it so that we trick ourselves, we trick our brains, while still not going past that point and then yeah we’re not as active as our ancestors were either. We’re not walking 20 miles a day trying to look for food.

N: No.

B: So we have to figure out how to modify for what our energy outputs are. And a good way to do that is to just design for tricking the brain. You can do things using bulk, you can do things distance from the table, sizes of dishes, sizes of spoons, substituting different things that kind of give the same texture that we’re used to that make Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving or Christmas, Christmas those kinds of meals.

N: You know as you’re speaking, I’m thinking about the science of “restaurant design” and the way that a restaurant operates. The meal started in a certain way, your order is taken in a certain way, they bring the bread out in a certain time. Are all of these things deliberate? And are you talking about say maybe doing something in contradiction to this when you’re at home in order to better your health or nothing so much? You talked about bulky, you talked about distance from the table. What about tricking the brain and not having to move away from the table, maybe starting the meal in a different way?

B: Exactly. I mean that I’d love the metaphor restaurant design because it’s exactly this type of thing that we want people to think about differently – it’s not about will power. Will power and motivation are what I call “small muscle groups.” They will give way to the “big muscle groups” which is the craving, the addict, the inner addict that the person who looks forward to engorging themselves. So while we just go with what where we’re gonna go and just embrace that and say okay I’m gonna put some friction in between here and that over the distended stomach. So I’ll give you care, it’s a celery as your dipper instead of chips or if I give you chips I’m gonna give you some different type of chips, maybe some whole grain chips or something that you’re not gonna just down in handfuls and not feel full.

N: Okay. Something that doesn’t feel just so wonderfully familiar that a handful of and you’re ready to roll.

B: It’s similar. Because what you want to do is match with the brain is expecting. There is a lot of failed attempts at this when people try to do a “healthy thanksgiving.” I think very few people would find that satisfying. But for example, if you use smart balance or an olive oil based butter, or substitute in your mashed potatoes, if you add some cauliflower and parsnips for bulk and you still achieve the same texture and approximate taste, then you’re tricking the brain but you’re also preventing yourself from over jamming it.

N: Okay. Now when it comes to tricking the brain, I’ve been told I’m a very, very slow eater.

B: You’re lucky.

N: I don’t know If I’m taken a hundred bites or not but growing up a hundred bites, chew your food, whatever. Taking less bites during a meal, can that trick the brain into thinking you’re full because you’re taking less bites? All of these little things seem to be to go at least toward that end.

B: Exactly. And this is why I focus on “think like a designer” and the solution that you come up with will fit you. Because for you, you’re in the minority of people who eat slow and take a lot of bite, chew a lot. But most people who are prone to weight gain tend to raise the food down their mouth and into their stomach in order to get that stretchy feeling as soon as possible. Well the bile chemical aspect of that is that the stretchy feeling doesn’t register at the brain for another 20 minutes. You’ve got 20 minutes of engorging before your stomach catches up with your brain. So that is why I think people should say okay who am I? What is my family do? Are we all about seconds or thirds? So if that is the case for my family, I’ll put the food off the table except for the veggies and turkey, and have it on the sideboard or even in another room or on an island or something like that where somebody has to get up.

N: Uh huh.

B: To go make a spectacle of themselves, get another plate of food and then sit down, right? So it just that little bit of pause, that little bit of friction helps to control their behavior, helps them to be more sober to what they actually want to do.

N: Okay. Now I’d like to talk a little bit about your book “Well Designed to Life: 10 Lessons in Brain Science and Designed Thinking For Mindful Healthy and Purposeful Life,” now where can we get a copy of this book?

B: Yes, it’s on Amazon, on kindle and paperback. And you also can go to our website

N: Okay. And in your book Well Designed Life, how much does your book address design thinking specifically design thinking for over eating?

B: It’s the main topic of every, not eating but you can apply to eating every single concept in every one of the chapters. And then there is specific examples around eating, around my own addiction to things like soy chai and things that I’ve struggled with. And showing the patterns of how you design for that, design your way out of that problem.

N: You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio, I’m your host Neal Howard. It’s been an absolutely pleasure talking with Dr. Kyra Bobinet. And she’s got 5 words of advice for anyone engaging in bettering their health “be careful, authentic, and useful.” Now as a National Speaker and Author and CEO, Founder of engagedIn, a neuroscience behavior design firm. She devotes her life to cracking of a code of why we engage in our health. And every day she and her team use neuroscience make products and communications much more engaging. And we’ve been here talking about some of the ways that we can avoid that huge belly just after the holidays, wondering what happened? You know I was so svelte yesterday. (Laugh)

B: (laugh)

N: It’s been great having you here today Kyra.

B: You too Neal. Thank you for having me.

N: Thank you for returning. Transcript and audio of this program are available at and also at and you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.

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