Summary of research on dieting and its effect on weight gain

“Diets”, or what research called food restriction, can become in itself the cause of persistent weight gain (and the beginning of a search for yet another diet), this is a summary of what dieting has been found to accomplish:

1. Eliminating hunger and satiety sensations: According to the boundary model (Herman and Polivy 1988), through continuous dieting and the ignoring of hunger, gentle hunger sensations become muted. Instead we only feel forceful pangs of intense hunger.  Some dieters even get to a stage where they no longer feel any sensations of hunger and satiety.

2. Breaking boundaries causes binging episodes: When dieters cross the diet boundaries that they have pre-determined (ate something they shouldn’t eat according to their diets), they consume more than non-dieters (binge).

3. Restraint causes overeating of “fatty” food: Several research has shown that restraint (from dieting) not only precedes over-eating, but contributes to it causally (dieters were observed to over-eat more fatty foods). This suggest that attempting not to eat, paradoxically, increases the possibility of over-eating, the specific behavior dieters are attempting to avoid (Herman and Mack)

4. More emotional eating: Dieters will eat more than non-dieters when anxious. They are also found to be more  likely to feel depressed and have lower self-esteem.

5. Food Obsession: According to the “theory of suppressed thinking”  the more we try to stop thinking about something, the more likely we would compulsively think about it (participants who were asked to actively think about polar bears, thought about them less than those who were actively asked to not think about them). According to (et al 2006) dieters are more likely to thought suppress than non-dieters, making them more obsessive about food.

6. Calorie counting doesn’t work: Research seems to show that reducing the intake of calories is not an effective way to lose weight. The body will try to restore the body weight set point, therefore, fewer calories are being taken in but fewer are being used up. In the long term, between one – and two – thirds of dieters end up actually regaining more weight than they lost on the diet.

7. Heart Disease: Repeated attempts at dieting (‘yo-yo dieting’) can in the long term increase the chances of heart disease.

8. Will power is a limited resource: Research has shown we cannot rely on an endless supply of will power, tapping on this resource all day (to face daily challenges) leaves us with no defense against night binging. See more details about this in this article on change and will power

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }


Thank you Sarah, it is interesting how much psychology really plays a game here, we diet because we need rules and we recreate our authority figures and then start to defy them while staying stuck in this cycle, getting out of it feels risky at first but as soon as we do, its freeing



Wow! I didn’t notice the patern we re create…
I am sure it is freeing, I am setting my intention on that inshallah! 🙂
Thank you Ruba for making the picture clearer to me!



I already understand most points since i used to follow a healthy diet that doesn’t work based on calories & doesn’t allow me to feel hungry… But what’s new & interesting to me is #2: I do go through this stage! And I never understood what’s going on, it’s like suddenly i am not following my diet, so let me eat anything i want, anything i see, anything i might want to eat when i re-start my diet! And it reached the point where i am scared of not dieting, as if diet is my comfort zone now! Cause I think, See, I diet (healthy food) I loose weight, I stop, I put on weight, so I diet again 🙂 My dream is to actually eat without this week plan my doc gives me every week! Being more flexible…

I also go through #4: The time I stop dieting, i already become depressed & maybe angry with myself for not keeping up with my diet… So, i eat again all this food that makes me fat….

Just thought of adding my thoughts here 🙂 Loving the summary!


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