4 min read

Why Restrictive Dieting Hurts

Berkeley Burger
CC Mark Nye

Typically I like to write about my experiences as a coach and I’m inspired by questions that are asked of me both by clients and random people on the internet.

Well today is an exception.

I don’t typically get inspired to write just by reading research and infrequently quote research on this blog to prove a point.

This is not because I do not believe in the value of research, nor should it give my readers the impression that I don’t read a lot of it either.

Quite the contrary, I read a lot of research regularly, and have paid more than I care to admit for access to full research papers as opposed to just abstracts.

It’s just that in the grand scheme of things, research does not create as much of a compelling thought process for change by comparison to a good story or anecdote.

This is just human nature, with storytelling having existed since the dawn of our species, and research being a relatively new phenomenon.

Research for most people is just flat out boring, and researchers have a tendency to communicate in a language that is inaccessible to most — in other words unless you have a degree, diploma or considerable education in health sciences, a lot of the jargon used in research studies makes little sense to the majority of people and typically just confuses them.

And although many people seem to think I write a graduate-degree level; I’m actually closer to a grade 6 by comparison to most research papers.

If you’re going to do more research on your own, you should also get some education in the scientific method and research methods, I’m typically appalled by the conclusions that some people draw from research studies.

Anyway, when I do quote research, I generally try to make the language a little more accessible, and today is no exception.

My focus has undoubtedly switched in recent years to reading a plethora of exercise related research to nutrition related research and more recently I find myself reading a great deal of psychological research.

Mindset, it’s been my experience (and the science is starting to catch up), is the most critical component of anything physically related, substantially more important in the long run than nutrition and exercise.

In one of my random research reading binges, I stumbled across an interesting piece of research on obesity.

Many of us have this deluded notion that overweight people are A) Lazy, B) Lack Willpower and C) Are emotional wrecks that overeat constantly as a coping mechanism.

Let me be the first to say that I think this is pretty stupid of us to say, or assume, and it clearly gets people no where when it comes to changing the existing obesity situation.

In fact, our societal assumptions may actually be preventing a lot of people from losing the weight they want to, but I also happen to have to some research to back it up.

A recent study out of Trinity College Dublin (Ireland), found that restraint (restrictive) eating was the only negative predictor of overall food intake for obese persons.

Not emotional eating and not external influence, as many people might typically assume.

Restrictive dieting was a significant problem.

Overall the mindset that we need to restrict certain bad foods, is a severe mindset limitation to overcome in the process of reversing the obesity epidemic.

In other words, trying to deliberately restrict the foods you consume, or aligning foods with ‘good’ or ‘bad’ connotations might be more detrimental to your waistline than negative emotions, psychological distress or poor environmental situations.

Take Home Lesson

This is particularly important for weight loss objectives, but it can be applied to other physical objectives — including muscle mass gain, athletic performance or eating for health reasons.

Rather than associating foods as being ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ simply try to eat ‘better’ foods overall.

Think of food as existing on a spectrum, rather than good or bad, think better or worse. Your thinking becomes less absolute this way and more dynamic.

So french fries might be worse than mashed potatoes which might be worse than a baked potato, but that isn’t to say that french fries are bad and baked potatoes are good, just that a baked potato is a better overall option because it’s less processed.

Do not try to restrict the food you eat (which also leads to more guilt and stress), but rather try to eat more high quality foods.

Focusing on restriction, increases stress and makes it even harder to resist or ignore those foods.

In fact you may make those foods more desirable by trying to restrict them.

Don’t tell yourself what you can’t eat, focus on what you should eat, focus on what would be a better choice to eat.

Doing this will often displace the foods many of us deem to be worse for us, but without the cognitive stress associated with trying to restrict worse foods from our diets.

Don’t restrict your food intake, enrich your food intake.

Rather than a restrictive dieting approach, we actually use an additive approach.

We want you to eat more of certain foods, and by nature of this additive approach we displace things in the diet without worrying about restriction.

It seems counterintuitive, until you experience it.

Check out the Fitnack App for more…