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Does dieting work for weight loss?

When it comes to weight loss, many people turn to dieting or extreme measures in hopes of achieving fast results. However, there is no magic weight loss solution to get you to your weight loss goal, plus research suggests that taking excessive dietary restraint measures can actually hinder progress rather than speed it up.


In this blog post, I’m breaking down two common diet restrictions and their implications for long-term weight loss success.



Meal planning

A common diet restriction measure is regimenting to a very specific meal plan. Meal planning can be a great starting point for understanding portion control, finding new meal ideas and developing at-home cooking skills and habits.


However, restricting your diet and cutting out the food you crave excessively could lead to more impulse eating in the long run. This can lead to a phenomenon known as the disinhibition effect.


A tall glass filled to the brimb with a chocolate milkshake

This effect occurs when individuals are more likely to engage in behaviours that they would otherwise inhibit or restrain in situations where normal social constraints or inhibitions are removed, such as when dieters break their dietary rules and overeat as a result.


This can derail your progress and lead to feelings of failure, so it’s important to be mindful of the food you’re consuming and allow yourself to satisfy your cravings as they come up.


A study from Herman and Mack saw 45 people consume 0, 1, or 2 milkshakes as a preliminary taste before sampling some ice cream as a final taste. The preload manipulation of milkshakes was based on the idea that subjects who consumed 2 milkshakes in addition to their daily calorie quota would be more likely to abandon their dietary restraint and overeat, known as the disinhibition effect we chatted about earlier.


The results of the study showed that when highly restrained, subjects were more likely to consume more ice cream in the 2-milkshake condition than in the 0-milkshake condition (1). However, the authors also note that the effect of preload manipulation varies across individuals and may be influenced by factors such as external food cues or stress, which leads us to emotional eating (1).


Emotional eating

Emotional eating occurs when eating is in response to negative emotions, such as anxiety and stress. For some, the constant pushing off of hunger cravings and sensations may lead to a loss of contact with their feelings of hunger and satiety, which can increase the risk of emotional eating.


A neopolitan-style pizza fresh out of the oven.

If you struggle with this, a 2017 study found self-mindfulness, amongst various types of therapy, to also improve emotional eating (2). You can practice self-mindfulness by developing an understanding of the emotions your body is experiencing, and learning to non-judgmentally tolerate and accept that experience, rather than using food as a coping mechanism.


It’s important to note that while 64% of the studies reviewed on self-mindfulness interventions improved emotional eating, self-mindfulness in conjunction with a nutrition program not only improves binge and emotional eating but also improves weight loss long term (2).


Eat your favourite foods

While it may seem logical to cut out all indulgences, this can actually have a detrimental effect. Depriving yourself of your favourite foods can lead to cravings and overconsumption, ultimately diverting you from your weight loss goal.


A sustainable weight loss program, consisting of a caloric deficit and a strength training program is the most efficient way to see weight loss results while continuing to eat the foods you love in moderation.

 

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Reference

  1. Herman, C. P., & Mack, D. (1975). Restrained and unrestrained eating. Journal of personality.

  2. Frayn, M., & Knäuper, B. (2022). Emotional eating and weight in adults: a review. Key Topics in Health, Nature, and Behavior, 1-10.

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