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Why Emotional Dieting Leads to Never-Ending Dieting

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All learning has an emotional base. – Plato

You wouldn’t think the acts of dieting and losing weight would bring heavy emotions and questions to the table. After all, it is just “eat less, move more” right? The tricky thing is you need to set aside all emotion in order to achieve your goals, but in order to do that you have to change your emotional response.

Overwhelmed? Don’t be. If you embrace this idea, it will help you achieve your fat loss goals, and you can apply the same principle to multiple areas of your life.

How “You” Set Goals

I am going to cut to the chase. You are reading this hoping I will share how to go from point A (unhappy fatty) to point B (ecstatically lean) as fast as possible. You want to be lean. You deserve to be lean. You are tired of dieting, thinking about dieting, and your life being ruled by dieting. You are tired of trying to figure out if you should or shouldn’t eat carbs. You are tired of trying to figure out if you should do intense or moderate training. You are tired of trying to figure out if your training should be full body, splits, or a routine out of Men’s Health’s latest book.

You don’t care, you just want out and to get on with your life. Sadly, you lack crazy motivation that only exists in those who win Oscars or one-way tickets to institutions. Some of you even did that and it didn’t work.

The Real Problem?

You have been doing this for so long, thinking about this for so long, and worrying about this for so long that it should count toward your goals.

Yes, you think past and present thoughts, obsessions, compulsions, effort, and intensity should factor into your timeline for achievement.

So what do you do? You make a timeline, a goal sheet, a resolution…a proclamation! This proclamation has you achieving your goals as fast as possible. Perhaps 10 pounds in 4 weeks or 30 pounds in 12 weeks. After all, that is just a little over 2 pounds per week and a goal well within reason according to physical standards. You’ve seen other people do it. You have seen endless transformation photos and contests showing even higher rates of loss.

You say to yourself, “I have the willpower and self-control, because I want this!” So I ask you, How has that been working out for you?

Depending on Willpower Is Like Depending on the Lottery

Willpower and self-control are not only overrated by the average individual, they aren’t even understood. To understand self-control you have to understand the mental and physical properties behind it. Self-control requires a complicated cognitive, societal, and physical investigation. If you depend on the “I want it, so it will happen” model to get you through life, you are going to be met with mixed results at best and at worst, complete societal failure and solitary confinement.

A 2010 study titled, “Ego Depletion and the Strength Model of Self-Control: A Meta-Analysis,” examines the issue of self-control and particularly the strength model. In it though, it highlights multiple reasons behind our daily actions. This goes way beyond eating. Want to understand why you didn’t punch someone in the face today? Want to grasp the concept of self-monitoring in society? In short and brash terms, this is some heavy s**t.

When we look at the physical properties needed for self-control that influence our mental state, it is very clear why we fail at dieting from a willpower standpoint. For example, the prime meal for self-control in the body is glucose. If you don’t get the subtle subtext here, it means the less you eat, the less self-control superpower you possess.

Even single acts of conscious self-control work to deplete glucose. The more you are someone who worries, tries to resist temptation, and overthinks life and scenarios means you are likely depleting your energy faster than others.

We also see the more we use it, the less it works in the way it did before. For example, a 2007 study looked at the depletion of self-control with extension of use. They pitted a group of people who had to exert self-control while watching a movie (not showing expression, not laughing, etc.). Then, they followed that test with more demonstrations of self-control (Stroop test, not eating cookies, etc.). As the exercise for self-control went on, it was harder to maintain. This raises questions about fatigue and motivation, but it can all come back and link to energy. Less energy, less control.

Less food, less energy. Less carbohydrates, less glucose.

Now, things are not black and white, and there is such a thing as self-control training which involves working on your bodies glucose response and how diet and fasting can affect this response. This goes beyond simple motivation and a night of watching the Biggest Loser. The main point is not to build a house of cards on a seesaw.

What Is the Best Model for This?

It’s easy to say to yourself, “I will be happy with 1 pound of fat lost per week.” It is easy to say to yourself, “I will be happy with .75 pounds of fat lost per week.” It is another to truly accept the concept and set up your dieting strategy to fit that model.

I speak often about goal setting strategies and loss methods. A recent 2+ hour audio focused on nothing but this topic and has supplied hundreds of members with the “A-ha!” they needed. My dieting philosophy is one of cyclic dieting, and I will be speaking on this in more depth as the months go by. The notion of cycling isn’t new, but I have been working on testing and research for years now. Fast, slow, up and down. From research to anecdotes, it is clear being too hard on yourself and relying on pure self-control to maintain loss is a losing model.

The winning model? True patience and strategy. Not lying to yourself by saying, “Okay, a pound a week is good!” and then complaining when you hit a week where you actually lose a pound or have to make up for a week where you lost 3 or 4 in water. You aren’t being logical, you aren’t being strategic—you are being emotional.

Quick Points

  • Don’t rely on self-control, it physically fails you when you don’t eat.
  • Don’t lie to yourself in goal setting. Say, “This is what I will be happy with!” and mean it.
  • Know what your goals really are. If you need more help, this article is a great start.
  • Cycling solves the problems of any dieter, if they get out of their own way and do it right. If you want to see what a quality program looks like, check out the Beta 6C-Cycle for members here.
  • The more you express worry and concern about what you aren’t achieving, it is like a dose of failure right into the brain.
  • Don’t buy a lottery ticket, invest in a sound portfolio. Your life is a lottery if you let yourself win.
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32 comments

  1. Chris
    March 7, 2011 at 1:17 am

    Fantastic article, Leigh. Thanks for linking the study (“Ego depletion” …) — that are of study sounds very interesting. This is a great article that will be re-read a few times, for certain.

    I appreciate the Plato quote as well. 🙂

    Here is one on a lighter note —

    “Dogs are forever in the push up position.”

    — Mitch Hedberg

    Enjoy your week.

  2. Katie Nemargut
    March 7, 2011 at 1:24 am

    Fantastic Article Leip!

    Oh and ♥ Bowie, that is all.

  3. Katy
    March 7, 2011 at 1:56 am

    Love the summary points at the end. Great addition!! Summary points at the end would be super helpful on podcasts too.

    • Leigh Peele
      March 7, 2011 at 2:32 am

      Good idea, I will do that. It will be there in all the “Big Article” features on Monday.

  4. Claire
    March 7, 2011 at 2:28 am

    YAY!!!!!!!!!!! Great way to start things back off Leigh. On the other hand, I hate you for ALWAYS calling me out. Love the studies and the small changes.

    You do a great job Leigh, I hope the success continues!

    • Leigh Peele
      March 7, 2011 at 2:33 am

      Thanks Claire, I only call you out because I care and am a slight masochist.

  5. Jill
    March 7, 2011 at 3:09 am

    I wish I would have read this in the morning, instead of before bed. My mind is reeling.
    This was one of your best articles ever Leigh. I always say to myself “1lb is okay” but I never, ever believe it inside. I have been putting of the cycling program, because of that very thing. I keep thinking “I can do it faster than that program” and do you know what I have lost since new years? I gained 2lbs.

    I self-control makes sense. Is it worst for some people than others? Does going low carb make it worse?

    • Leigh Peele
      March 7, 2011 at 6:02 pm

      Well, it is mixed. There is some research and logic that points to it being better and worse depending on the person. From a logic standpoint, it takes more effort to convert glucose in a low carb setting and we know certain hormone responses are weak to nothing on very low carb (hence the importance of refeeds).

      I think it depends on your definition of low carb and if you involve any cycling of carbohydrates. I don’t really bother with the restriction of carbohydrates for the sake of body comp manipulation, but because calories are restricted and nutrient essentials must be met, carbs do end up restricted on a level. Depending on the client/goal, they may want to look into higher carb intakes even in lower calorie setting. But, this could go on and on if I don’t stop rambling.

  6. Jill
    March 7, 2011 at 3:10 am

    UGGGH sorry I mean to say

    The loss of self-control makes sense.

  7. Daxton
    March 7, 2011 at 7:36 am

    Hit home and a home run! By the way, you need the FB share button. I can install it for you if need, please ask.

    • Leigh Peele
      March 7, 2011 at 6:03 pm

      I had problems with this before and the twitter button in some browsers. If you want to chat some tech talk, shoot me an email.

  8. Nancy Cooley
    March 7, 2011 at 7:38 am

    Wow. Just wow. A hit between the eyes and a score. Sometimes you can hear something and it doesn’t register and sometimes it just all makes sense. This makes sense. Looking forward to hearing more. Thanks, Leigh.

  9. Heather
    March 7, 2011 at 7:39 am

    Great way to start back! thanks for sharing Leigh

  10. Jennifer Kellar
    March 7, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Fantastic article……hit home today as I was mentally doing a tug of war over only losing one pound this past week ….back and forth between “yes but that was my goal I should be happy” and “ugh only one pound I was hoping for more.” Also I have been meaning to email you but thank you so much for all your fantastic advice/direction from our phone call – I am really happy with how this first week has gone. Thank you.

  11. Leslie Vasquez
    March 7, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Very well written. Where your mind is on any subject, including your body, determines all that is now and all that will be. If we do the mental work on the exactness of how and also the why of wanting to be fit; everything else falls into place. Really a wonderful write up Leigh.

  12. Karen
    March 7, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    I love this article so much, I am guilty of setting up “lose a pound a week” then getting upset when I “only lose a pound”. Thanks for keeping it real Leigh.

    I am going to go back and listen to the audio again!

  13. Katy
    March 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Question, do you think there is a value to carb cycling?

    • Leigh Peele
      March 7, 2011 at 6:06 pm

      The short answer is – see what I wrote above to Jill. I will go into in more depth later. There is always a place for carb cycling, but I think carb cycling in absence of caloric deficit is overrated unless it indirectly contributes to a lower intake.

      This is in absence of contest manipulation or shoot preps, but that is a different animal.

  14. Fredrik Gyllensten
    March 8, 2011 at 7:41 am

    Nice article, Leigh!

  15. Michelle
    March 8, 2011 at 11:03 am

    It’s like you were sitting in the room with me telling what I most needed to hear! How do you do that?? Amazing stuff. Really, thank you so much.

  16. Kevin K
    March 8, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    I really, really found the self-control/glucose study interesting.

    I wonder if people with substance abuse issues are more likely to suffer from glucose related issues.

    • Leigh Peele
      March 8, 2011 at 10:07 pm

      There have been a lot of studies that correlate violence, substance abuse, and general criminal activities have been linked to insulin resistance. One study looked at anger and spoonfuls of sugar. Anger and irrational thought decreased better with a spoonful of sugar, that without.

  17. […] Why emotional dieting leads to never-ending dieting by Leigh Peele. I love this article because it focuses on the mental and emotional side of weight loss. We absolutely need to continue the conversation about eating well and exercising as weight loss tools, but there is more to it. Truly. If you’ve struggled with weight loss but are motivated to succeed, then give this a read and hopefully take a new perspective away from it. […]

  18. Good Reads | Go Tami Go
    April 21, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    […] Why Emotional Dieting Leads To Never-Ending Dieting – by Leigh Peel […]

  19. […] could not be enjoying this article more! http://www.leighpeele.com/why-emotional-dieting-leads-to-neverending-dieting#more-6343 ) Thank you Leigh […]

  20. […] I am going to cut to the chase. You are reading this hoping I will share how to go from point A (unhappy fatty) to point B (ecstatic lean) as fast as possible. You want to be lean. You deserve to be lean. You are tired of dieting, thinking about dieting, and your life being ruled by dieting. You are tired of trying to figure out if you should or shouldn’t eat carbs. You are tired of figuring out if you should do intense or moderate… read article here… […]

  21. […] Why emotional dieting leads to never-ending dieting by Leigh Peele. I love this article because it focuses on the mental and emotional side of weight loss. We absolutely need to continue the conversation about eating well and exercising as weight loss tools, but there is more to it. Truly. If you’ve struggled with weight loss but are motivated to succeed, then give this a read and hopefully take a new perspective away from it. […]

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