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.
Recently, there has been a distinction made between rigid and flexible restraint. You can think of rigid restraint as the absolutist type of black/white, good/bad food mentality that so many have. Clean eating is a perfect example and orthorexia is the eating disorder extreme of this. It’s a pathological obsession with the relative healthiness/goodness of foods that, confusingly leads many people to make less healthy choices. In contrast, flexible restraint is where there is attention to overall food intake but with the acknowledgement that food is not an absolutist issue.
Not much research has been done on rigid and dietary restraint per se at this point but study after study after study links a shift from rigid to flexible dieting attitudes as being a HUGE predictor of success. This isn’t even up to debate at this point even as the online orthorexics continue to argue against it and defend their subclinical eating disorder (note that I am NOT considering flexible dieting attitudes with IIFYM or any specific flexible dietary STRATEGY per se).
Food Attitudes and Diet Failure
I wasn’t sure what to call this section but had to get my SEO right since this kind of overlaps with the last section. But here I’m focusing less on restraint per se and more about people’s attitudes towards eating. Because keeping with the idea of rigid restraint, some people actually think of what they eat on a diet as being fundamentally different than what they eat normally. There are their diet foods and there are their regular foods and the number of problems this causes is enormous.
First, and this is really a Kindergarten concept, many people don’t think of dieting/weight loss as a long-term process. The thought seems to be that they can diet, lose weight, return to their old habits and it will magically stays off. This is like thinking you can exercise for 6 weeks and then stop and stay fit. Weight loss is, rather depressingly, a lifetime process. Food and activity patterns have to be changed and, most importantly, stay changed to at least one degree in the long-term. That’s the reality and one of the expectations that has to be in place.
Second, and I vaguely recall that this has been studied but can’t be bothered to look right now, many people automatically think of “diet foods” as tasting worse. It’s a purely psychological thing but you can’t ignore that. People expect a diet to be a bland, tasteless, cardboard set of foods. And this was arguably true in the older days when so-called diet foods were crap. But at this point in the game, when you can get high-protein foods and food bars that taste like candy, and where even pre-packaged microwave meals are often not only healthy but delicious, this is idiotic.
I’m not saying that diets should be based entirely around those foods but if someone can’t figure out how to make “diet” foods (and this is where people online get utterly pedantic and that you should think of it as a lifestyle rather than a diet, which is fine) taste good in 2016, you’re not trying hard enough. But parsing the foods “on a diet” as different than what you intend to eat in the long-term is going to cause diet failure.
F’ing Stupid Diets and Diet Failure
Make no mistake, I’m not ever going to claim that weight and fat loss is an easy process (despite having been accused of such since I sell books on the topic). I’m never going to claim that a majority of people succeed because it’s not true.
However, on top of everything else, on top of every pathological and asinine attitude people bring into the weight loss process that contributes to diet failure, on top of all the bullshit media programming telling people either not to bother or that they will fail, I think that a huge part of diet failure is due to the fact that most approaches to weight and fat loss completely and utterly suck.
If you get bored, get online and look at generic weight loss sites. Or for even more amusement, check out the junk magazines for weight loss advice. In the US, we have Women’s World and I can’t ever not look at it while I’m waiting in line to see the magic “How You Can Lose 12 lbs in 7 Days” weight loss articles. I can’t help myself because it both amuses and aggravates the absolute piss out of me (and we all know I like being angry).
The kind of moronic stuff that is in there is just incredible. How eating some vegetable can change your life, ramp up your thyroid, burn off 17 lbs in 10 days. Broth, cabbage soup, the idiocy is stunning. God, just watch Dr. Oz. Look at any of it and easily 99% of what’s written about how to lose weight and keep it off is just such absolute bollocks (this isn’t a cuss word in the US). When they think this is how you lose weight, how can people not realistically fail? Hell, even outside of all of the above, who can do the cabbage soup diet or whatever nonsense long-term in the first place?
Now, we can quibble about an optimal diet, high-carb, high-fat, whatever although the big reviews show that, in the long-term, any difference in total weight loss is negligible (like 1 kg/2 lbs) and mostly irrelevant. The best diet, as I’ve said for years is the one you can stick to but most diets can’t be stuck to because they are just so stupid.
But there are a lot of good indications on better approaches to diet set up and, in my opinion, the biggest single one is a higher protein intake. Protein blunts hunger (the Protein Leverage theory shows that simply increasing protein intake often decreases food intake), keeps blood sugar stable, spares lean body mass (meaning more fat loss); if weight is regained a higher protein intake ensures that more is gained from lean body mass instead of fat mass. The major benefit from “low-carbohydrate” diets is probably through increased protein (and why they are incapable of distinguishing low-carb from high-protein per se is still beyond me but zealots gonna zealot. If this is unclear consider that you can just as readily eat enough protein on a carb-based as l0w-carb diet and they have nothing to do with one another) as well. It’s protein, protein, protein all the way down.
In 2016, there is simply NO reason not to follow a diet that is higher in protein and current research is finally realizing that even the general public needs more protein than the old DRI. How much higher? That depends on factors such as initial body fat percentage (higher BF% needs less protein), activity levels (which increase protein intake) and there are charts with my recommendations in every one of my books. But, genuinely, if nobody gets anything else about their diet right, this should be it: eat sufficient/more lean protein.
And although I’m not getting into exercise, sufficed to say that, even if exercise doesn’t drastically improve overall weight loss, it’s critical for long-term weight maintenance. And I’d add to that that IF a single type of exercise has to be done on a diet, it should be proper weight training. It’s not usually the case that only one type is done but that should be the one if a choice has to be made.
The Causes of Diet Failure
And I think that’s a sufficient amount on this topic. yeah, I could add endless other stuff, mainly having to do with various strategies such as regular tracking/self-weighing and many others but that’s just basic stuff. The above is some stuff that I think often is unconsidered in terms of what causes diet failure. Once again, I’m not saying that the success rate will or will not be improved by changing those or getting people to take a different approach to the process.
But it sure as hell can’t hurt.
- Ketogenic Diets: High-fat or High-Protein – Q&A
- All Diets Work: The Importance of Calories
- Diet Percentages: Part 1
- Dietary Restraint and Cortisol Levels – Research Review
- Size of Deficit and Muscle Catabolism – Q&A