Dieters who deprive themselves of their favorite types of food often fail to stick to their plans, according to a study published in Psychology & Marketing. The study suggests diets are more successful when they add healthy food rather than focusing solely on deprivation of food that is perceived as unhealthy.
Previous studies have found diets rarely work. A 2007 analysis of 31 long-term studies found that dieters initially lose 5-10% of their body weight, but people tend to gain it all back, plus some additional weight. Research shows dieters often struggle to keep up with their diet plans after they have achieved weight loss, and the latest study sheds light on one factor contributing to this finding.
The Role of Deprivation in Diet Failure
The study analyzed the results of three previous studies that examined a total of 542 participants. Participants answered questions about their diet strategies and weight loss success. Researchers also asked the participants to develop rules that others might follow if they wish to become healthier.
The majority of dieters made rules based on deprivation, such as eliminating favorite foods. People with low levels of self-control were even more likely to recommend these deprivation-based strategies. The study’s authors suggest people who already struggle with self-control may set themselves up for failure by embracing deprivation rather than focusing on healthy eating.
A Better Approach to Dieting
Effective diets can be sustainable over time, not just until a dieter achieves a weight-loss goal. For this reason, the study suggests healthy approaches to dieting should not focus on specific “bad” or “good” food, but instead on strategies dieters can use to embrace healthy eating in everyday life. The researchers say this mindset is likely to help people achieve better health and wellness.
- David, M. E., & Haws, K. L. (2016). Saying “no” to cake or “yes” to kale: Approach and avoidance strategies in pursuit of health goals. Psychology & Marketing, 33(8), 588-594. doi:10.1002/mar.20901
- Wolpert, S. (2007, April 3). Dieting does not work, UCLA researchers report. Retrieved from http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/Dieting-Does-Not-Work-UCLA-Researchers-7832
- Your diet plan isn’t working? New Baylor research explains why. (2016, July 12). Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-07/bu-ydp071216.php
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