Does dieting really make you eat more?

Various research suggests that going on a diet can actually make you eat more.

When you’re happy with your weight and have never dieted, you rely on your body to tell you when to eat and (crucially) when to stop.

But when you diet, this simple process goes very wrong. My clients often say: “As soon as I decide to go on a diet, I get this desperate urge to eat!”

And, whilst they are “good” for a while and stick to the diet, if they ever break the diet and start eating, then they REALLY eat, wolfing food down like young Labrador retrievers.

The ice cream experiment

Psychologists have investigated the effect of dieting on food intake, using dieting and non dieting students. The students were invited to eat as much ice cream as they liked after being given one of three different “pre loads”: one milk shake, two milk shakes or nothing at all.

The non dieters behaved as expected, eating less ice cream after one milk shake than none, and even less ice cream after two. But the dieters actually ate the most ice cream when they’d had the two milk shake, super sized “pre load”!

According to the psychologists, the effect of the milk shake preload was to undermine the dieters’ resolve, so they temporarily gave up their dieting abstinence. After the two milk shake pre load, the dieters decided the diet had been blown out of the water anyway, so they may as well make the most of the situation, and enjoy the ice cream!

This is a feeling which all dieters must recognise. After succumbing to one biscuit you think: “Oh, sod it, I’ve broken the diet anyway. May as well eat the whole packet, and the diet starts again tomorrow!”

The stressful film experiment

By denying themselves, dieters also make food much more important and give it emotional significance that it does not have for non dieters. For instance, dieters are more likely than non dieters to turn to food when they are anxious or depressed.

At a recent study carried out in London, female volunteers were divided into three groups: the first went on a strict diet, the second underwent a rigorous exercise programme and the third neither dieted nor exercised.

After five weeks, the researchers measured the women’s food intake while they watched a stressful film. Bowls of sweets and nuts were left beside the women and they were told to eat as they liked. Even though none of the women were hungry, those in the diet group ate far more than the others.

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