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An Introduction to the Psychology and Physiology of Dieting

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In the next series of articles, I want to take a look at some aspects of dieting, both physiological and psychological.

Frankly, in a lot of ways, I think addressing the psychological aspects of dieting is far far more important than the physiology or nutrient metabolism or what have you. Simply put, at this point, with 40+ years of dedicated nutritional research, I think we have a pretty good idea of what is required for a diet to generate weight or fat loss.

Yes, we can always quibble about the details of what the ‘perfect’ fat loss diet should or shouldn’t be but when you start looking, you start to realize that there is no single perfect diet.

Issues of genetics, insulin resistance, food preference, how much and what kind of training, etc. all factor in to determine what diet might be best for any given individual. A relatively lean individual involved in high intensity training daily will have a different requirement for an ‘ideal’ diet than someone at 40% body fat who isn’t exercising.

There is also the additional factor that, when you get right down to it, any diet that adheres to some very basic principles should ‘work’ to at least some degree or another.

If you don’t believe me, go pick up any half a dozen different diet books. Odds are they will all have wildly differing recommendations, at least at first glance. But they will all be able to trot out case studies of someone who did amazingly well on it. How can that be?

When you start breaking it down to fundamental principles, anything that works to any degree will invariably share the same principles. This isn’t much different than how it works with training mind you, if you focus more on the principles of a given training system and don’t get hung up over the details, you generally find that all successful programs adhere to the same basic principles. The details almost cease to matter as long as those basics are right.

To put this in perspective, I vividly remember reading this review paper a bunch of years ago addressing the issue of the optimal diet for obesity. I’d note that this is a paper essentially reviewing 30 years of research data to the tune of lord knows how many millions of dollars.

Their conclusion was something to the effect of “While we may not know the ideal diet for the treatment of obesity, it will probably be based around plenty of lean protein and vegetables, moderate amounts of carbohydrates and fat.”

I call this the “My grandmother knew that” approach to dieting and I’m surprised someone hasn’t written “The Grandmother Diet” since everybody knows that their grandmother knows everything about everything.

In any case, fundamentally, this isn’t a bad sound bite. The problem in modern society is both

  1. Getting people to eat that way in the first place.
  2. Getting them to keep eating that way in the long-term.

And, in a lot of ways, ‘b’ is probably the more important of the two. Everybody knows that all diets will work in the short-term. Where dieting invariably fails for most people is in long-term adherence. People fall off the bandwagon for a variety of reasons.

This is what I’m going to discuss over the next series of blog posts.

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