New study shows diets follow feelings, not plans

Diets tend to fail due to unrealistic goals

The beginning of a semester is one of the most popular times at which to start a healthy diet. New research suggests, however, that sticking to a new diet is often hard to accomplish because our cravings are influenced more by our emotions than by our intentions.
A study looking at whether food choices and diet failures are dictated by our intentions or feelings was published in the Journal of Health Psychology in May. The study was led by Marc Kiviniemi, a researcher at the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions, and Carolyn Brown-Kramer, a researcher at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The results of this study showed diet planning is mostly driven by intentions while actual diet behaviours are guided by feelings.
The Canadian Community Health Survey reported nearly 30 per cent of Canadian adults are obese or overweight. Yet 70 per cent of the overweight population who make the effort to lose weight regain most or all of it, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. This study’s findings may help overweight people plan more effective diets and keep their weight down once lost.
About 200 volunteers participated in the study, which examined their intentions and feelings during diet planning and food consumption. Of the volunteers, 38 per cent reported they were currently on a diet. The researchers asked the participants to complete a questionnaire rating their positive or negative feelings toward certain foods. For example, the participants were asked to rate whether they felt happy, joyful, delighted, sorrowful, sad or annoyed when thinking about eating pizza. A point scale was used in the experiment, with zero being “not at all true of me” and eight being “very true of me.” A wide range of foods, including high-fat foods, low-fat foods, fruits and vegetables, and desserts, were included in the experiment.
The experiment was repeated to examine the participants’ intentions and attitudes about the utility of a given food. Participants were asked whether they thought a given food was useful, beneficial, valuable, harmful, worthless or useless.
The researchers also took into account their subjects’ current diets and whether they were willing to make changes to their eating habits.
Since it examined only common feelings and intentions, the study is limited in its assessments of a wide range of human behaviours. A small number of participants reported to never have engaged in the behaviours examined in the study.
This study suggests that changing an eating habit based on intention alone and without considering feelings is problematic, and may explain why dieters make great weight-loss plans which they fail to achieve. When it comes to the actual food choice, such as deciding what or where to eat, momentous feelings take over and prompt dieters to opt for less healthy options.
The study suggests dieters should make food choices that they associate with positive feelings in order for their diet plan to be effective. In particular, when making diet plans, people should choose foods which make them happy instead of foods which they think are healthy. Dieters are more likely to execute their diet if they include foods they enjoy.
The authors of the study also recommend that diet planning should include positive-feeling components as well as plans for how one might overcome negative feelings which often arise during actual food consumption.

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