Why should you never go on a diet?

"Never go on a diet" - surprising things about self-discipline

An unexpected finding from psychological research is that self-discipline has the greatest impact on performance in the workplace and school, and the least on diet. Nevertheless, the diet findings of the discipline researchers are most instructive. They surprised and impressed me so much that I want to reproduce them here. Especially since a lot can be clarified about the property of the discipline.

Surprising nutritional recommendations and their reasons

The authors of my reference book “The Power of Discipline” Roy Baumeister / John Tierney recommend:

1.) Never go on a diet
2.) Never promise that you will forego chocolate or any other food in the future.
3.) Regardless of whether it is about others or yourself: Never make the mistake of equating overweight with weak will.

Although obesity is often used as an example of a lack of discipline, research has shown that the two have little to do with each other. Instead, weight has a lot to do with setting realistic goals. Anyone who wants to go on a diet can bet at the English bookmaker William Hill. Curiously, the dieters are even allowed to set their own goal and should therefore easily win. Instead, Hill wins 80 percent of the bets. The reason is that dieters simply overestimate themselves.

Something amazing about diet came about through an experiment in the 1960s. Hungry test subjects were given the option of eating unobserved and a manipulated watch was installed. The clock ran faster, so normal meal time was approaching more quickly. Those who were not on a diet were not impressed by it and ate when they felt hungry. The dieters, on the other hand, fell for the wrong clock and ate earlier. This led to the question: Do people get physically out of joint because they have difficulty feeling their hunger? One thought that for a long time. However, further experiments clarified: It is exactly the other way around. It is only through the diet that you lose your own natural feeling of hunger. Because if you ask (questions are more important than answers), what does following a diet mean for feeling hungry? Then it becomes clear that a diet is called: "Ignore your feelings, eat according to plan." So whoever follows his diet plan in a disciplined manner will gradually ruin an important, innate asset: the natural feeling of hunger.

An experiment with hungry test subjects amazed the researchers. All participants came to the institute hungry. Then they got nothing or a small milkshake or two huge milkshakes. While the participants were then asked to take taste tests - it didn't seem to be about how much they ate - the calorie intake was measured. With those not on a diet, everything was as expected. The big milkshakes had fed them and they ate little when tested. The crazy result for those who followed a diet: Those who drank the calorie bomb shakes ate more afterwards than the other dieters. How does this absurd behavior come about? The scientists officially and somewhat cryptically christened it “counter-regulated food intake”. Unofficially, however, it was called the “don't give a shit effect” - which makes a lot clear. Those who keep a diet are guided by external rules. If these cannot be met, all dams will break.

The three effects of dieting

Overall, diets have three main effects: First, they work for as long as they are followed. Second, you ruin your natural feeling of hunger. Thirdly, the body optimizes the use of calories forever - in anticipation of the next apparent famine. The result is the well-known yo-yo effect - some time after the diet you weigh more than before. And the next simulated famine only adds to the problem.

The more recent research has also revealed another difficulty: People whose willpower is exhausted, e.g. by following a diet, have a maddening desire for sweets. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that in order to restore willpower, we need glucose, we can feel it. We know that sweets are the fastest way to rebuild ourselves - although, in principle, healthier foods would work too. On the other hand, we perceive everything more intensely when we are starved - including our need for sweets. The diet itself brings us into a nutritional dilemma that would never have existed without a diet.

Concrete recommendations

1.) Set realistic - that is, small - goals. Order of magnitude: 5-10 percent less body weight, e.g. in six months or a year.
2.) Clear away fattening foods and brush your teeth right after dinner. Such obstacles (going to the basement, brushing your teeth again, etc.) have been shown to influence behavior.
3.) Make so-called “implementation plans”. That means: For dangerous situations (e.g. a party) you decide on a concrete behavior plan from the start (“I won't eat chips tonight”). Research on the discipline shows that doing this uses less willpower than when you are unexpectedly faced with temptation.
4.) Losing weight together is easier.
5.) Gradually acquire more and more healthy habits, e.g. regular meal times, no calorie bombs, early dinner (see below). Our willpower is limited. And automated behavior uses a lot less of it.
6.) The importance of constant self-observation in matters of self-discipline also applies to nutrition: Those who check their weight on a daily basis are less afraid of standing on the scales and lose weight better. This is a research finding (the recommendation contradicts conventional nutritional advice).
7.) Don't eat while watching TV. According to the experiment, more is eaten in front of the device - the better the film, the stronger the effect.
8.) Never say “never”: The ban makes you weary. It is better to tell yourself that you can try cake or ice cream later - it has been proven that this already partially satisfies your needs today.

Finally, one more answer to the much discussed question today whether eating late is harmful to weight. An interesting television report recently appeared on this topic. The answer is: Because of the insulin-driven nightly fat loss, an early, protein-rich, low-carbohydrate evening meal can be very beneficial for weight. What I particularly like about this diet: You have to adapt, but you can always eat your fill. Exceptions are allowed because the fat build-up happens every night. And the ability to self-discipline is used optimally: full concentration on a permanent change in behavior, then automated control without additional energy expenditure. This use of willpower is ideal for diet issues as well as for a career.

Addendum: A current study shows that under certain conditions carbohydrates can be cheap in the evening.