How an “all or nothing” diet can backfire

There’s no denying the psychology of eating is a powerful thing. I’ve been researching and writing about it for years. In fact, my book Thin For Good focuses on the “whys” of what we eat. And it offers step-by-step guidance for reprogramming your brain, and, over time, your eating habits.

One of the topics in Thin for Good is the tendency to deify and demonize certain foods.

And while I believe there are definitely foods that fall under the healthy and unhealthy categories, this way of dichotomous thinking may backfire for some people.

In fact, I see people every day in my practice who are struggling to lose weight or to keep it off because of this “all or nothing” approach. And after years of counseling patients on the “good vs. bad” concept, I came across a study out of the Netherlands that backs up this very idea.

According to the authors of this study, there are two distinct mindsets when it comes to dieting: rigid and flexible.

People who have a rigid mindset use restraint when making food choices and don’t break the rules. Which can be a really good thing when it comes to weight loss and exercise. The problem is, when these people do fall off the wagon, they tend to overeat. And not just once. Often, they abandon their healthy habits altogether and end up regaining the weight they previously lost.

Conversely, people who have a more flexible restraint may cheat once in a while, but get back to good habits fairly quickly. And according to this new research, these people tend to be more successful in maintaining a healthy weight.

This study was conducted by administering a survey to 241 mostly female participants who were between 15 and 74. They were asked a series of questions that addressed both general and eating-specific ways of thinking. For example, researchers asked them to answer true or false to questions like “I think of food as either good or bad” or “I view my attempts to diet as either successes or failures.

The researchers found a significant correlation between rigid thinking and tendency to regain weight. In fact, rigid thinkers had a 142.4% increased risk of regaining lost weight.

I can certainly vouch for these results in my own patients. In my experience, people with this sort of “all or nothing” mindset just tend to give up when something goes awry. They break the “rules” and eat something they shouldn’t and the gut reaction is to think, “Well, I failed. So I might as well just keep eating badly for the rest of the day…or week…or month…or year.”

But I’m here to tell you to get right back on the horse! After all, you’re only human, and life isn’t perfect.

The key is to stay the course. Keep reading my Reality Health Check and my monthly Logical Health Alternatives newsletter. In fact, keep an eye out for the upcoming January issue — the feature article offers some new tips and insights that will help you make 2016 the year you finally keep those New Year’s resolutions. (If you’re not already a subscriber, now is the perfect time to become one.)

And in the meantime, visit my website, and search through the archives to learn all you can about eating healthy, breaking old habits, and adopting new ones.

Happy New Year!