I’m currently reading Willpower by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister. After finishing the chapter on dieting, I wanted to share some thoughts.
Tierney and Baumeister offer 3 rules concerning how to diet.
Never go on a diet.
Never vow to give up chocolate or any other food.
Never equate overweight with weak willpower.
The book is supported by dozens and dozens of studies. I won’t be covering the details of the studies they cite, for that, I highly recommend their book, but I’ll cover their conclusions.
Never Go on a Diet
They don’t define what they mean by diet, since everyone is always on a “diet,” because our diets are what we eat. The inferred definition is that “diet” refers to exclusively calorie-restricting diets. The science is clear, when we go on calorie-restrictive diets, almost everyone gains the weight back. The evolutionary explanation is that the sapiens who retained fat better, survived more often, thus we are the descendants of the most efficient fat-storing sapiens.
When we go on calorie-restrictive diets, we are telling the body that it is famine time. Our body, completely committed to survival, responds by attempting to store fat more effectively.
The amplifier here is when we focus on reducing our calorie intake, we are sapping our Willpower, and a product of sapped Willpower is less control over eating well. So, they advise, do not go on calorie-restrictive diets. (For a thorough trashing of the calorie-in, calorie-out fat loss model, see Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Body.
Never Vow to Give Up Chocolate or Any Other Food
According to the studies they cite, people who tell themselves they will never eat a certain food experience the “What-The-Hell Effect.” Whenever our diet is broken, and the chaos of life will see to it that it is, those who exclude certain foods have been observed to overindulged in said foods, sometimes consuming two to three times as much as eaters who don’t have these restrictions.
The secret weapon they offer is to tell yourself “I’ll eat that later.” Their favorite study shows that people who tell themselves later, rather than never, do significantly better at resisting a bowl of M&Ms.
Never Equate Overweight with Low Willpower
They share the story of Oprah, a paragon of Willpower, who has struggled with her weight her entire life. The authors remind the reader that Willpower’s fuel is glucose, and that most diets reduce glucose, which reduces Willpower, which reduces our ability to stick to the diet. It is an unrelenting cycle.
Tierney and Baumeister conclude that one should look to change slowly, don’t exclude glucose from the diet, and be compassionate.
The Keto Konundrum
I’m on a Ketogeneic diet. I don’t do it for weight-loss, (but I enjoy that). I eat ketogenic for the cognitive benefits. That is for another post. What is so interesting to me is that people who are in Ketosis, their brain is not fueled by glucose, it is fueled by Ketones (fat cells.)
I wonder if any Willpower studies have been done with ketogeneic dieters. This diet directly contradicts the hypothesis that glucose fuels Willpower.
Here I’ll offer a diet plan that fits all the guidelines the research in this chapter demonstrate are the most effective.
Follow the Ketogenic Diet. (Clear goal)
Weigh yourself every morning before eating or drinking. (Monitor Self)
Eat whenever you are hungry. (Don’t restrict calories.)
Have a cheat day once a week. (Saying Later, not Never.)
If this is popular, I can explain the science behind why these rules are ideal and what they are doing psychologically.