The diet didnt fail but science did the importance of control

Before I continue, I want to tell you about one of the coolest studies I've seen in a while. I say cool mainly because of the fact that the scientists failed so miserably in their goal, while making an absolutely wonderful discovery. For anybody who wants to look it up, the full reference is "Wing RR and RW Jeffrey. Prescribed 'Breaks' as a means to disrupt weight control efforts. Obes Res (2003) 11: 287-291."

The study was set up to find out why people go off the dieting bandwagon. That is, the researchers wanted to determine what behavioral things happen when people go off of their diet for some period, and why they have trouble going back on.

So the subjects were first put on a typical diet meant to cause weight loss. Then the subjects were told to go off the diet for either 2 weeks or 6 weeks so that the researchers could see what happened when people fell off their diet but hard and started regaining weight. Here's what happened: not only did the subjects not regain very much weight, but they had almost no trouble going right back onto their diet when the 2 (or 6) weeks was over. So the scientists completely and utterly failed to reach their goal of studying what they wanted to study.

Basically, they made an almost accidental discovery which raised another set of questions: why didn't the subjects regain a ton of weight and why did they have little problem returning to their diet? That is, knowing that most people who go off of a diet for even a short period will balloon up, regaining weight rapidly, and fall off their diet, what made this study (or these subjects) different?

The basic issue seemed to come down to that of control. To understand this, let's consider two different situations. First let's say that you're the typical rigid dieter hammering away on your perfect diet, no lapses, no mistakes. Suddenly something comes up that is out of your control. A stressful period of life, the aforementioned vacation, whatever. Feeling out of control, you figure your diet is blown and the binge begins. Does this sound familiar at all?

But consider what happened in this study, the subjects were told by the researchers to go off their diet; in essence, the break was part of the diet. And they didn't blow up, didn't gain a ton of weight, and had no problem going right back onto the diet.

I suspect that that was the key difference and why the study failed so miserably: control.

Psychologically, feeling like the break is now under your control, or that it's part of your overall plan, makes it far easier to not feel like the diet is completely blown and get back on the diet when things settle down. Which brings me to one more word of introduction.

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