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Emotions, Psychology and Eating

My first post entitled “Are you confused about how to eat??” reviewed the biological effects of dieting. We talked about how when we diet our bodies enter starvation mode (metabolism slowing down) and through dieting, we try to alter our predetermined set range, the weight at which our body is its happiest. Lastly, that yo-yo dieting can lead to overall weight gain, despite the intermittent spurts of weight loss.

One thing that I think we all can attest to is that dieting is extremely hard on our minds!

Authors of Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, describe what I think to be the greatest mental struggle during dieting perfectly. They called this the Seesaw Syndrome: Guilt versus Deprivation.

Picture a seesaw.

The side up in the air is deprivation, the side near the ground is guilt. Dieting is essentially restriction or deprivation in one way or the other. During this time, deprivation is high (eliminating or limiting carbs, white foods, high-fat foods, etc.). Our guilt is low because we haven’t engaged in those “forbidden foods.”

Eventually, that craving for the forbidden food peaks and we cave. This is when the guilt starts creeping in. The result? Our deprivation crumbling. Guilt and deprivation have eventually switched heights on the seesaw scale due to our indulgence.

The next day determination or the next diet keeps us seesawing.

I have definitely been on this particular seesaw and this imagery resonates so well with me. I don’t think it’s worth it because too much of our brain space is occupied by this when we are dieting to lose weight. Not only is our physical well-being suffering because of dieting, our mental state is too.

Another great example of psychological deprivation due to dieting is Dr. Ancel Keys’ Great Starvation Experiment.

Some of you might have heard of this experiment already. It is an extreme scenario of deprivation, but nonetheless, the effects are similar to the diets we engage in today.

Dr. Ancel Keys conducted his experiment out of the University of Minnesota in 1945. He studied the effects of starvation on 36 physically and mentally healthy men.

It may seem obvious, but after a significant decrease in caloric intake and maintaining daily exercise, these men lost a significant amount of muscle mass and energy. Their metabolism and heart rate also slowed. All what would be expected.

These men also grew irritable and preoccupied with food. Some participants even cheated, eating food that wasn’t given in the experiment.

What?! This is exactly what happens in our dieting minds today! Restriction only heightens our awareness of that which we are restricting, evident by Dr. Keys’ study.

I think together we could come up with a long list of psychological effects due to dieting. The Seesaw Syndrome and The Starvation Experiment are only two examples. There are many other ways to engage our minds and bodies in the world (beautiful ways!) that don’t involve dieting. Let’s brainstorm those ideas instead.