Should You Even Consider Crash Dieting? What Research Reveals!
Some people decide they want to lose weight quickly. Maybe it’s Jan 1.
Perhaps summer is approaching, which means pulling out the bikini, or an outfit for your high school reunion. Or maybe, plain and simple, you would just like to wear all of those clothes (still) hanging in your closet that no longer fit.
You put yourself on a strict diet, denying yourself all of your favorite foods.
Maybe you even begin with a total fast in order to shrink your stomach or otherwise attempt to boost morale by shedding a few quick pounds.
Off to a good start, right?
Although a diet involves avoiding certain foods, the key is being able to exercise responsible restraint. Willpower governs your ability to be successful, because whether you are trying to cut back on brewing coffee or beer, calories count.
But in terms of dieting discipline, can you go too far?
Forced Abstinence May Trigger Indulgence
We all know someone (you?) who tried one of those trendy, extreme diets that gain traction every few years, which are centered on denial. Whether it is no carbs, no sugar, no fat, or perhaps even no solid foods in the case of weigh loss milkshake regimens, they include an element of complete and total deprivation of some sort. Assuming such diets are for short term use and are not dangerous health wise, they are still mentally difficult to stomach, pardon the pun.
People contemplating strict diet plans consider whether they can endure the anguish of not being able to have a single cookie, French fry, or even a grain of salt while dieting. Sustenance self-denial often leads to loss of self control. Most people who have struggled with their weight are familiar with inconsistent or “Yo Yo” dieting, where periods of weight loss are followed by weight gain — often more than was lost. How does this happen? Why is a period of being so good followed with a phase of being so bad?
Research has some answers . . .
The Forbidden Can Be Attractive
Many dieters are familiar with the phenomenon of craving what you deny yourself. From sugar to steak, butter to beer, prohibited foods acquire an elevated allure. A plain slice of thin crust pizza never looked as tantalizing as the second day of your no-carb diet. But only incredibly disciplined people can maintain austere meal routines . . . for a while. Then, even many of them fall off the wagon. When they do, some of them fall hard.
Because crash diets often crash and burn. Research indicates the failure to stay on your diet might be linked with the effort expended to do so.
Why Crash Diets Are Accident Prone
Edward Burkley et al. in, “Lead Us Not Into Temptation: The Seven Deadly Sins as a Taxonomy of Temptations,” (from 2018) found that people with low trait self-control were less able to resist temptation. No surprise there. But they discuss an interesting inverse relationship between self-control and prior exertion of self-control.
They outline research showing that prior exertion leads to unhealthy food choices, causes people to “blow” their diets, drink more alcohol, and smoke more.
Participant diaries over a three week period demonstrated that on days where people exerted a high level of self control, they were more likely to drink alcohol to excess.
A taste-testing task in a study on food consumption found a similar result: particpiants who exerted prior self control ended up concuming more cookies than those without prior exertion.
With specific reference to dieting, Burkley et al. (ibid.) cite a study by Wagner et al. (from 2013) which used functional neuroimaging to examine how self-control and gluttony (remember, they were examining the Seven Deadly Sins) were potentially linked.
They found prior exertion increased the allure of overeating by increasing neural responses to appetizing food cues in the brain´s reward center, and reducing connectivity between this region and an area of the brain that helps regulate self-control.
Describing this dual impact as a “double-whammy,” they note that prior self-control exertion reduces the ability to successfully diet in two ways simultaneously.
Being Sensible: Moderation Versus Deprivation
If deprivation can lead to overcompensation, people who want to improve their diet must master moderation. Diet plans that focus on reasonable restrictions in terms of quality and quantity of consumption predict a higher likelihood of success.
So, barring health issues, you might do better to enjoy one chocolate-chip-cookie a week, than swear off of chocolate, sugar, and carbs for six months.
Exercise controlled indulgence, and restrain yourself responsibly.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of “Red Flags” (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller “Reading People” (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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