Were You Good or Bad Today?
We’re talking about food, here. Did you stick to your diet, or did you blow it? What happened? Was it a few chips that became the whole bag?
Sometimes, eating forbidden foods on a diet can lead to a binge and the promise to start the diet again tomorrow. But that shouldn’t be the answer. It is to be more flexible and the time to start is today.
Chronic dieters, also called “restrained eaters,” try to control their intake by carefully planning what they should eat, instead of using physical signs of hunger and fullness to guide their eating decisions. In contrast, “natural eaters” who have never dieted, would probably accept a wider range of foods and would follow their body signals of hunger and satiety.
In an often cited classic article, Dieting and Binging. A Causal Analysis, eating disorder researchers, Janet Polivy and Peter Herman, combined groups of “restrained eaters” and “natural eaters” and invited them to participate in what all thought was an ice cream tasting project. The natural and restrained eaters were subdivided into three groups. All were encouraged to each as much ice cream as they wanted.
In the first group, the natural eaters ate a good amount of ice cream -- about 4 cones -- while the restrained eaters were cautious and only ate one cone.
Everyone in the second group had to drink one milkshake before eating the ice cream. The natural eaters were fuller and only ate two cones, but the restrained eaters ate three.
The third group was fed two milkshakes, which they had to drink before the ice cream was served. The natural eaters were full and so ate only one cone. The restrained eaters, though, ate four cones.
What’s going on?
The restrained eaters ate carefully, until they were given the milkshakes. That pushed them through their diet “boundaries,” and they simply kept eating, despite their physical feelings of fullness and good intentions.
When restrained eaters stay within their narrow boundaries, they are good, but whenever they breakthrough the boundaries, they are bad. A cookie or ice cream or any forbidden food can lead to a binge.
What can cause overeating or binges?
Restrained eaters lose their resolve when they:
- either eat or think they’ve eaten a fattening food
- anticipate overeating (think Thanksgiving or a cruise)
- anticipate starting a diet tomorrow
- are depressed
- think they’ve gained weight
- are under the influence of alcohol
- see others overeating
Being rigid may work when they’re feeling fine, but if they are tired, stressed, bored, or any number of feelings, it becomes undone. Anxiety also seems to undo the checks dieters put on eating.
The bottom line: Listening to physical signs of hunger and fullness and being somewhat flexible can keep you from going off the deep end if an overeating incident occurs. Don’t be so rigid that you snap under stress.
Read some academic articles about restrained eating:
- Hill, AJ. Does Dieting Make You Fat?
- Miller-Kovach, K, et. al. The Psychological Ramifications of Weight Management
Are you a restrained eater?