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Why It’s Hard to Give Up the Diet Mentality

The thing that diet promoters don’t tell you is why you get so hooked on diets. But this is just the information you need to get yourself unhooked. The answer is found both in physiology and psychology.

First, when you begin dieting you lose weight which is precisely what you want to happen. You think, “Hey, fab, this works!” which, of course, it does for a while, until it doesn’t. So, then you think that if it worked for a while, you must be doing something wrong that you’ve stopped dropping pounds and, therefore, redouble your efforts. If you then resume shedding pounds, you think it was you who caused the failure and success. This dynamic of on-and-off rewards is called intermittent reinforcement which means sometimes getting what you want and sometimes not, and it works as well, if not better, at strengthening goal-seeking behavior as positive reinforcement does.

Second, if you’re carrying excess pounds, you hear from everywhere and everyone that you should be dieting—family, friends, doctors, celebrities, etc. If you’re not dieting, you feel as if you’re doing nothing, don’t care about yourself, are out of step, and swimming against the tide. People can’t imagine why, if you want to lose weight, you wouldn’t be dieting. And, after a thorough brainwashing, you can’t imagine why either.

Third, in terms of success or failure, humans have a strong drive for the former and a deep aversion to the latter. As Amy Alkon, Advice Goddess, says (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 5/8/14) talking about relationships ending but with wisdom equally applicable to giving up anything long-term, “We humans have a powerful aversion to loss. When it starts to look like we’ve made a bad bet, we engage in the “sunk cost fallacy”—continuing to invest (and even stepping up our investment) based on how much time, energy, resources, or emotion we’ve already invested. Of course, the rational approach would be basing any further investment on whether it’s likely to pay off in the future.” This principle is understood by psychologists and sociologists, but not by most people.

In order to give up the diet mentality, you need to understand what keeps you thinking that one more diet might do the trick. Do you fall into this illogical trap when you try a quick fix diet and lose weight fast? Do you resist giving up on dieting because doing so makes you feel totally helpless to change your eating or weight? Do you continue thinking of dieting as an option because you’re caught up in your dieting investment and don’t want to see it fail? if so, repeat after me, “Diets don’t work long-term.”