Studies on diet mentality

Richard Kerr's picture

Diet study

A study carried by psychologists in Canada looked at the effects of food restriction and willpower.

This was a difficult study to carry out because the researchers were aware that people can charge the way they think and act when being observed. Therefore the researchers told a group of dieters and a group of non-dieters that they were participating in a taste study.

The groups were given a variety of low fat yogurt and plenty of high fat foods to sample, they were then asked to comment on them.

Afterward the groups were given access to a complementary lunch which included left overs from the food study. This was when the researchers really put on their observation goggles!

Unknown to the participants they were being watched closely behind a two way mirror to observe and analyze how much of the complimentary lunch they ate.

Researchers found that dieters who sampled the low fat food varieties ate less that the non-dieters. However the dieters ate more of the sample food during the complimentary lunch that was high in calories than the non-dieters.

The researchers believe that this was because the dieting group had told themselves that they had 'blown the diet for today' or broken their diet rules'', therefore may as well enjoy the rest of the complimentary buffet before food restriction starts again tomorrow.



Diet ice cream study - 'all or nothing thinking'

Psychologists Herman and Polivy, 'University of Toronto', underlined the effect of food restriction on willpower in an experiment on dieting and non-dieting students who were invited to eat as much ice cream as they liked after being given three different pre- loads, which were 'one glass of milk shake', 'two milk shakes' or 'nothing at all'.

While the non-dieters behaved as expected, eating less ice cream after one milk shake than none, and even less ice cream after two, the dieters actually ate the most ice cream after the biggest pre load.

According to the psychologist the effect of the milk shake was to undermine the dieters resolve, temporarily releasing them from their vows of abstinence. After the milk shake, instead of doing penance for the calorific sin, the dieter persists in sinful indulgence, say the psychologists. After all, if staying on the diet is no longer possible then why not make the most of the situation. This seductive thought process - I may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb - is a trap which awaits all dieters. After succumbing to one biscuit you feel such a failure you consume the whole packet. You decide to ditch the diet for the day and start again tomorrow.

But as Herman and Polivy point out, in anticipation of deprivation to come, dieters indulgences the night before can reach legendary proportions. The seeming inability of diets to stop once they have started stem from the Faustian bargain they made with themselves at the start. Included in the loss of normal internal controls are the normal processes involving satiety. Dieters do not eat interminably once their rules are broken but they eat far more than non dieters do.



The information provided in this website is for information purposes only. The information on this website is NOT a substitute for proper diagnosis, treatment or the provision of advice by an appropriate health professional. Please refer to the full disclaimer and copyright. If you do think you might suffer from an eating disorder, it is important that you talk to your General Practitioner, as there are many physical complications that can arise from being at an unhealthily low weight or from losing weight very quickly, or from purging. We advise you to seek professional help with working on an eating disorder.


Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved.