Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Discipline and Restraint: What Research Says About Dieting

Dieting can be tough - just ask Oprah Winfrey. Anyone who has struggled with their weight in the past (or currently) can attest to the fact that those extra pounds just seem to sneak up on you, and before you know it, you're tipping the scales. In this sense, dieting can be futile and most definitely confusing; there are so many diets out there! What is the "right" or "best" way to lose weight and keep it off for life? A growing body of research is pointing to the fact that - you guessed it - successful dieting requires a great deal of restraint and discipline.

Anyone who has ever "black-listed" certain foods, or has restricted or restrained them from their diet can attest to the fact that sooner or later, they're going to snap and binge on all of those goodies (or should we call them baddies?). Previous short-term research studies can back this up. So isn't it better just to eat these "bad" foods in moderation so that we aren't inclined to pig out? That would make sense in a perfect world, but it's actually very wrong. You see, most of us aren't disciplined enough to know what "moderation" is! We are, after all, human, and we are inherently driven by our instincts. Visual cues, scents and the "just one bite" approach might send you into a pig-out frenzy. Sometimes we just don't know when to stop, or we simply lack the willpower to de-junk our kitchens and homes to avoid temptation in the first place.

New research published in The American Journal of Health Promotion points to the fact that demonstrating restrained eating - which means avoiding unhealthy foods and substituting them with healthy ones - can reduce your risk of gaining weight by almost 2.5 times in the long run. The researchers highlight the fact that if we want to maintain our weight or lose weight, we simply can't eat whatever we might desire.

As tough and time consuming as it might sound, there is more evidence than ever that keeping food diaries, counting calories and periodically weighing oneself is a sound practice. This allows you to do the math - you can see exactly where and when you consumed those extra calories, backed by a change in the numbers on the scale. If you do tend to pig out, the numbers will speak for themselves, and you will know what you have to do if you really want to lose weight. If we do indeed practice restrained eating, and we rid our homes and environments of "bad" foods, then they just aren't there for us to snack on. Once in a while, as a reward it might be nice to have a brownie or two, but if you keep track of where you pigged out then you know just what is throwing your diet off.

If all of this is way out of left field for you, or you simply lack the time to keep a food journal- consider consulting a registered dietitian or going on a meal plan such as NIM where your calories are calculated for you, meals are pre-packaged, and there is no temptation to keep going back for more. The researchers involved in this study found that individuals who received help in the form of consultation over the phone actually doubled their intake of fruits and vegetables and made other healthy changes to their diet. The easier dieting is to understand, the easier it is to take action to make changes.

Disciplining yourself to control your exposure to high-calorie, unhealthy foods can be very difficult, especially when temptation is all around you. That's why it's your job to get rid of what tempts you at home, and be as strong as you can when all of your friends are eating foods that you know you shouldn't. Other suggested practices for successful weight loss include eating routine meals -keeping a schedule - so that your brain knows when it's going to get what it wants, and you will be less inclined to reach for the nearest piece of food (what ever it might be!) when you are hungry.

Part of the challenge of a healthy lifestyle is to re-define your rewards and re-program your brain and body to enjoy and prefer healthy food over the bad stuff. Just be sure that you do actually reward yourself for hard week of work. If you know you are going to eat dessert on Friday, or bacon on Sunday morning, then you will be far less tempted to cheat at any other time during the week, your cravings won't be as bad. All things considered, you have to keep your mind, body and soul happy if you truly want to achieve your goals, whatever they may be.


Cliff Peskin said...

Achievement almost always requires work, systems and practice.
I think the book Outliers could be referenced here. I bet that if one were to take a close look at people who seem to have no weight issues whatsoever (the one's who say all they eat is junk but are in mint physical shape)they actually aren't so unhealthy after all. I personally eat mcdonalds twice a week but besides that 99% of the food i eat is clear of processed ingredients and sugar. I spend hours each day planning and preparing healthy meals but as a slim guy i definitely have friends who see my bag of mcdonalds and think i'm lucky in that i'm able to get away with eating anything.They're incorrect though - i live off of plants and protein - but yes i do eat mcdonalds for lunch on tuesdays and saturdays.

Anonymous said...

I feel so guilty, I hate a hot dog today because I was starving. There was a hot dog stand outside of my office building and I just could not resist. Oh well, tomorrow is another day.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I can't believe you eat McDonalds so often! That's kind of gross.