A while back, I saw this article on Alternet… and thought it might be appropriate to quote a few pieces of it for discussion, here.
The entire article is very long and I think the information included within is hard to digest all at once, so I figured that digesting it in pieces – no pun intended… okay, maybe a little – might make it easier to discuss.
The first part I want to talk about is the part that discusses the failure of diets:
The most immediate reason that diets don’t work over the long term is that they promote a loss of the internal signals for hunger and fullness that are necessary for normal eating. This was the finding of a classic study conducted by Janet Polivy and Peter Herman at the University of Toronto, published in 1999. In this experiment, a group of dieters and a group of nondieters were given the task of comparing ice cream flavors. Participants in each group were divided into three subgroups. Before getting the ice cream, the first subgroup was asked to drink two milkshakes, the second subgroup was asked to drink one milkshake, and the third subgroup wasn’t given any milkshakes. Next, the researchers offered the groups three flavors of ice cream and asked the participants to rate the flavors, eating as much ice cream as they desired.
The results revealed that the nondieters ate as you might expect: those who hadn’t consumed any milkshakes ate the most ice cream, those who’d consumed one milkshake ate less ice cream, and those who’d consumed two milkshakes ate the least. The dieters, by contrast, reacted in the opposite way. Those who were offered no milkshakes before the taste test ate small amounts of ice cream, those who drank one shake ate more ice cream, and those who’d consumed two milkshakes ate the most ice cream!
The researchers termed what had happened to the dieters “disinhibition,” which occurs as a result of a “diet-mentality.” The milkshake preload had a different effect on dieters than on nondieters. Nondieters, eating in an unrestrained and normal manner, tend to regulate their food consumption according to internal physical cues of hunger and satiety. Therefore, in the experiment, nondieters regulated the amount of ice cream they ate based on perceived fullness. What could be more obvious and natural?
The dieters, however, reacted in the opposite way — the more milkshakes they consumed, the more ice cream they ate. Why did they lose the capacity to regulate their intake? According to the researchers, this “counterregulation” occurs because a milkshake preload disinhibits a dieter’s usually inhibited or restrained eating, almost like a switch: “I’ve blown it anyway, so I might as well keep eating before I go back on my diet.” This is an almost irresistible incentive to go on eating well past physical fullness.
This passage made me think of the blog post I’d most recently written about deprivation:
If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s this: the more I try to deny myself access to something, the more desirable that something becomes. Be it cupcakes, cookies, ice cream, brussel sprouts… whatever. If I deny myself access to it for long enough, the more desirable it becomes.I’m willing to bet I’m not the only person wired that way.
Depriving myself of something, in a sense, means that even though I “reeeeeeeeeally want” something, I’m still saying “no.” This isn’t just a simple “I’d like to have it.” This is an “OMG I WANT IT AND THIS ISNT FAIR DAMN IT!” craving. That kind of compulsion is strange and it means that something else may very well be behind the craving – like a sugar addiction, perhaps? – that needs to be addressed.
Isn’t this part of what makes dieting so silly, though? Not only do you not address the real issue (why the craving exists), and not only do you deprive yourself of something you want, in most cases you’re depriving yourself of lots of the things you need. Like, well, food. C’mon – grapefruit is awesome and all… but I couldn’t imagine eating only grapefruit for breakfast and lunch and then having “a sensible dinner.” Substitute grapefruit for an [insert brand name] shake and, well… the same thing applies.
Does this study surprise you? Does it confuse you? Do you share these experiences? Thoughts?