The latest ‘fad’ diet plan making the news today is ‘intermittent fasting’. This entails any one or combination of restricted eating not by food quality or quantity but by timing. That is, there are various versions of this program that in some form or fashion restrict when you can eat.
Hence, intermittent = every so often but not regularly and consistently, fasting = not eating.
Some plans have been studied and written about in peer-reviewed journals. But all of the programs basically limit the hours, or even days, that you can eat; some limit how much you can eat on certain days.
So, for example, you may have a plan that limits eating to those hours of 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Go ahead – eat what you want, but only for those 6 hours.
Another may say you eat regularly for one day but the next you fast, eating no more than 500 calories.
Whatever you want to call it, as a diet, these are all restrictive, with the goal to force you to withstand hunger pangs (and maybe hunger pains) and temptations you otherwise might give in to.
And all of these effectively accomplish 2 metabolic results: reduced caloric intake and increased reliance on stored body fat for fuel during the ‘fasting’ phase. Both of these, combined, will help you lose weight, especially body fat. And maybe muscle mass, but that’s not been sufficiently studied from what I’ve read.
Along comes a very well done scientific analysis of why some folks who’d lost weight in a regimented, clinically-based program maintained or even lost more weight while others gained it back, and maybe even more.
The study was unique in that it actually had researchers interview subjects vs administer a multiple choice test. The latter basically provides questions the researchers come up with to explain results; the former allows the subjects to come up with their own answers to why the results are what they are.
By doing so, the researchers came up with 7 factors that impacted weight maintenance: meal pattern, level of physical activity, comfort eating, reward eating, psychosocial stress, social support and a new factor they call “instrumentalization of eating.” The first 6 speak for themselves and have been noted by others.
The latter is unique. It is defined as a “concept [that] encompasses the degree to which participants have made their eating behavior a tool to maintain weight loss. It comprises three dimensions: calorie counting, food choice based on nutrient content, and using monitoring tools (apps, schedules, or other).”
The simple way to look at this is it entails eating rules. Some dieters are better at following other people’s rules – book authors, program distributors (e.g. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, etc.), or simply those of a dietician or personal trainer…or even a friend. But the successful weight maintainers and losers were adept at creating and abiding by rules they learned or devised that worked for them!
They basically designed a ‘behavioral restraint‘ against wanton eating patterns with which they could live even as they denied themselves the pleasures of their pasts.
Now this sounds cruel, if imposed by someone else. But if you come up with a strategy that helps you accomplish a worthwhile goal, be it studying harder/better or earning more income or losing weight, and you actually accomplish it, you’ve instrumentalized whatever patterns needed to be restrained, or constrained. It’s not cruel unless it makes you miserable. (Some diets, whether from a book or expert, or even yourself, can qualify as cruel, and will usually manifest in dismal and self-defeating failures. If so, we might suggest you are a masochist for having put yourself through the grinder all for naught, or worse.)
My points are these:
- all diets involve some restrictions
- all successful dieters have somehow incorporated into their lives some elements of a diet with which they have developed a sense of comfort to fit into their lifestyles and personalities. As my friend, colleague and respected RD, Nan Allison said in an email response about this article, “And some people will resist the structure– they will not get a system going for many reasons. Yes, it is our job to help them find that structure and also what the barriers are — many of which are psychological/emotional — and find ways to work through those.”
- and all successful dieters have ‘instrumentalized’ their eating patterns by either limiting trigger foods, total caloric intake, times of day or even days within which they can eat, and/or, as the National Weight Loss Registry surveys have demonstrated, incorporated more physical activity into their lives.