Maintenance of a healthy body weight is challenging for many people. Diet success rates are generally low and it has been shown that 50% of the weight loss is usually regained after one year.
A factor that has been associated with overeating and weight regain is thinking in black and white terms; a personality trait that is called dichotomous thinking. People often hold divided beliefs about food (healthy or unhealthy), their diets (on track or out of track), but also about their weight (acceptable or unacceptable) and these beliefs may lead them to overeating when they have the feeling that they have violated their diet. For her Master thesis project, Katerina Palascha conducted a survey among 241 adults. She wrote a paper about the study and recently this paper was published in Journal of Health Psychology. Quite an achievement!
The study revealed that the greater the self-initiated attempt to control food intake (dietary restraint) the higher the weight regain. However, it was the dichotomous thinking rather than dietary restraint that really predicted weight regain. This implies that when the attempt to control intake is accompanied by a rigid ‘black and white thinking’ style, people’s ability to control their food intake may be inhibited, thus leading to weight regain. In line with this finding, a study of Sairanen and colleagues showed that adopting a more flexible self-restrictive eating behaviour (as opposed to rigid self-restriction) could lead to a better weight loss maintenance and well-being.
Katerina’s study again showed the importance of avoiding the ‘what the hell’ effect. Do not think: ‘I have already ruined my diet for today, why not even indulge more..!’. Flexible dieters are more successful dieters.
About Ellen van Kleef
Ellen van Kleef studies overeating, self-control and healthy food consumption interventions. She focuses on the role of subtle cues in the environment that cause people to overindulge and on how changes in the environment (smart interventions) can assist in self-control. She published her research in international journals such as Journal of Health Psychology, Food Quality and Preference, Appetite, Psychology and Health and Public Health Nutrition.