An Introduction to Dieting Part 2

Continuing from last week’s republication of a chapter on diet from the forthcoming women’s book, I want to take a general look at the issues of dietary restraint, disinhibition and rigid versus flexible dieting attitudes.

Restraint, Disinhibition and Dieting Attitudes

When I talked about stress, I mentioned the concepts of restraint and disinhibition and want to briefly address them again here. Dietary restraint generally describes a concern with overall food intake and may also include deliberately restricting food intake to either generate fat loss or avoid fat gain or regain after a diet. A fairly large body of research has identified potential negatives of having high dietary restraint and I mentioned many of those in Chapter 12. At the same time, in the modern environment, the a majority of people have to exert at least some degree of restraint over their food intake to avoid gaining weight.

To lose weight and fat will always require some degree of dietary restraint. This is a problem as restraint is often coupled with disinhibition, the loss of control over food intake in response to various types of stress. This can often set up a cycle alternating between high degrees of restriction/restraint and disinhibition that causes weight gain or diet failure.

This isn’t universal and there is a subgroup who are able to exhibit dietary restraint without disinhibition and who show both better short-term and long-term success. This occurs due to the fact that there are two different types of restraint which are called rigid and flexible restraint (1). While researchers refer to rigid/flexible dieting, I will use the more general rigid/flexible eating. The distinction between the two is critical as rigid restraint (or rigid approaches to dieting) represent one of the single most damaging approaches to fat loss that can occur. I’ll examine specific strategies later in the book and now just want to look at the concepts in general.


An Introduction to Dieting Part 1

Right or wrong, the fact is that January is when people tend to kick off their attempts to diet, get fit, etc.  Many gripe about this, we can quibble about the relative merit’s of using what is fundamentally an arbitrary date as a starting point but that doesn’t change the reality: the holidays are over and January is when dieting starts (as well, Fat Loss Happens on Monday).  For that reason, among others, I’m going to republish a version of something I originally published in 2015.

This is actually an excerpt from the Women’s Book which I’d note has now been split into two volumes (Volume I is one nutrition, fat loss, etc. and Volume 2 will be about training) of which the first is nearing completion (I promise).   However, it’s undergone enormous rewriting since I originally published it, including the addition of a completely new section.   So I’ve unpublished the original to republish the updated version in two parts over the next two weeks.


Chapter 15: Introduction to Dieting

Having addressed a number of fixes to the issues that women face when attempting to change body composition I want to move into the practical aspects of setting up what I consider to be an optimal diet or nutrition program for women. This will include a number of topics including daily calorie intake, the nutrient composition (both in terms of amounts and food choices) of the diet, around workout nutrition, meal frequency and patterning and others.

These recommendations certainly differ from some fairly official recommendations but most of those recommendations are either many years out of date with the research or were never meant to apply to dieters or athletes in the first place. They will also likely run counter to what many women believe is a proper way to eat/diet or have seen recommended to them. The reality is that much of what women choose to do or have recommended to them is either ineffective or outright damaging. It may cause menstrual cycle dysfunction or problems with bone health, iron or thyroid status. That’s on top of the amount of information that comes out of approaches geared for or towards men; as I’ve reiterated, women have issues that men will simply never face.


10 Tips to Deal with Holiday Weight Gain

So after my little exposé on Sol Orwell telling outright lies about me a few weeks back, I wanted to run a piece I’ve been running since 2008.  It’s a bit late but there are still 3 problem weeks left until New Year’s.  I won’t put anything else up, this will give me time to work on the book before having to deal with new content.  So without further adeiu, I give you the annual running of 10 Tips to Deal with Holiday Weight Gain.  Enjoy!

For the body obsessed or even normal dieters, the holiday period from around October through to January can be a true minefield. Between the specific holidays of Halloween (mercifully passed), Thanksgiving and Christmas, along with endless goody baskets and parties, folks run into problems maintaining the habits they try to follow the rest of the year.

A lot of strategies exist to deal with this time, especially among the body obsessed, although I’d consider few of them particularly healthy from a mental or psychological standpoint.  One is to become a social pariah. Can’t control your food at parties? Simply skip all of them. While this might avoid food issues, it’s also a way to make your friends and co-workers think you’re an anti-social asshole.  Which is fine, I guess, if you are an anti-social asshole.  But it won’t do much for your inter-work relationships.

Another common one is to take the needed meal or food (e.g. turkey, broccoli, plain sweet potato) with you in a Tupperware bowl. I’ve heard of folks doing this at Thanksgiving dinner, usually so that they can sit and look down upon their family members with an air of superiority. “Oh, I can’t believe you’d eat that, that’s why you’re fat.” Newsflash folks, not only are we talking about a borderline eating disorder at this point (see also: orthorexia/Chris Shugart), that kind of insanity just makes your family uncomfortable. So don’t do it.  Better to stay home than be an asshole.

Of course, at the other extreme are the dis-inhibited eaters who just go completely crazy and eat everything in sight, gaining a considerable amount of weight and fat in the three months of holidays. It can happen and I’m not saying that it can’t. Of course, if you’re a bodybuilder or powerlifter, you can just say “I’m bulking” as you shovel down the third piece of cake but I’ll assume that you actually want to keep a lid on weight/fat gains during this time period. Balance please.


The Causes of Diet Failure Part 2

Continuing from last week, I want to look at some more non-boring causes of dieting failure.  Yes, I was thoroughly amused by people posting pictures of fast-food restaurants in the comments but here I’m clearly focusing on some of the rather non-obvious and non-Kindergarten level reasons that I think are often ignored.  So moving on.

Fantasy, Reality and Diet Failure

Here’s an interesting one, a weird paper that looked at issues of positive and negative expectations/fantasies and this ties in with what I was talking about last week. Basically you can draw up a 2X2 grid with four options for positive and negative fantasies about each. And without doing so, the worst results were seen the group that had negative expectations about success (i.e. they were expecting to fail or have poor results) but positive fantasies about how easy the process would be.

In contrast, the best results were seen in the people who had positive expectations about their results but, perhaps confusing, negative expectations about what would be involved.  So they expected to succeed but were at least realistic about the potential negatives that they would encounter (and as I’ll discuss thoroughly in the book this piece is being taken from, there are strategies that help to not only identify problems but find solutions before they occur).

So think about how many people, either due to past failures or having heard “Nobody keeps weight off” decide to lose weight but basically expect themselves to fail.  But who still think that the false expectation of quick, easy and painless weight loss will occur.  It’s kind of a confusing combination: thinking you’re going to fail but it will be easy until you do.

Rigid Restraint and Diet Failure

The concept of dietary restraint is a bit oblique and comes along with some other concepts such as disinhibition.  You can think of dietary restraint as an overall concern about food intake and bodyweight but it’s not synonymous with dieting per se because it’s not synonymous with actual caloric restriction.  It’s just a mental concern with it.  I reviewed a paper showing that these people have elevated cortisol (and this is due to the mental stress) and folks with certain types of restraint often show disinhibition.  This means that under certain conditions, they lose control over their eating and overeat.  Frequently restraint is associated with higher rather than lower body weight levels for this reason.


The Causes of Diet Failure Part 1

Moving on from last week’s piece that didn’t say much, I want to delve into a topic that will be a bit of a mish-mash from a book I started last year from which the woman’s book spun off from.  I will get back to it and this may be a bit disorganized since I’m pulling stuff out of some different chapters but so be it.  But I want to look today at the causes of diet failure.  Now, I’ve written a bit about this before although that was more about how dieters fail their diets but this is all inter-related.

To be honest, and I’ve been saying this for a lot of years, I don’t think that the issue with dieting failure has much to do with diet (or exercise) per se.  That is, we know and have known for a long-time HOW to get people to lose weight/fat (I’m going to use these interchangeably for writing style reasons just understand that body composition is more important than changes in body weight per se and let’s move on).  Bottom line, almost everyone manages to lose some amount of weight or fat when they diet.  That isn’t the issue.

The bigger issue to me is why people don’t keep the weight off.  That is, why are making long-term behavior changes so difficult for most people.  Make no mistake, this isn’t isolated to dieting and people tend to fail at most behavior changes.  Exercise program, most quit.  Stopping smoking, drinking, any bad habit you care to name and most people do poorly at making changes and maintaining them.

And this is the issue to me: how do we fix this?  How do we improve adherence.  Because another study about how fiber is good for fullness isn’t telling us jack crap.  We need to know how to get people to eat high fiber foods in the long-term.

Biological Reasons for Diet Failure

One topic I’m actually not going to go into in detail in this piece is all the various biological drivers that tend to make fat loss difficult. While I have been hilariously accused of ignoring metabolic adaptation from time to time (which is absurd given that I was writing about it over a decade ago), I’ve written enough about this to fill multiple books and will write about it again to be sure.  The body fights back.  Leptin, ghrelin, PYY, changes in neurochemistry, etc.