An excerpt taken from http://www.eating-disorders.org.uk/docs/psychology.doc
"The psychological as well as physiological effects of drastically reducing food intake have been well documented by Ancel Keys in a series of much quoted experiments conducted on young healthy male conscientious objectors without a history of weight problems . They participated in these experiments as an alternative to military duties during the Korean war. The men ate normally during the first three months of the experiment while their eating patterns and personalities were studied. They were then put on strict diets where their normal food intake was halved for a period of three months. Afterward they went through a three month rehabilitation period where they were reintroduced to eating normal amounts of food.
What happened suggests that the effects of dieting are far reaching. Food became the main topic of conversation reading and daydreams for almost all of the men. Men who previously had no particular interest in food and cooking became fascinated by cookery and menus. About half way through the semi starvation period 13 of the men expressed an interest in taking up cooking as a career after the experiment was over. Many of the men found it impossible to stick to the diet - they ate secretly on impulse and felt guilty afterwards. Psychologically they became more anxious and prone to feeling depressed , they had difficulty concentrating and they began to withdraw from other people and became less sociable. Two of the men had emotional breakdowns and one cut off the end of his finger apparently hoping that he would be excused from the study. The remained developed a “buddy” system to help them stop cheating.
The terrible internal conflicts which are the result of food restraint are a source of continual stress, according to psychologist Jane Warble. All dieters score higher than non dieters on measures of emotional agitation and are more likely to show impaired mental performance.
Dieting also changes the way we feel about our body. In the Keys experiment it was noted that men who had no previous concerns with their appearance and weight began to experience changes in the way they perceived their bodies, paradoxically several of the men complained about feeling overweight even though they had lost weight and they began to experience critical evaluations of their body shape and size.
At the end of the dieting period the men’s personalities reverted to normal . However many of them continued to have problems with eating. Even though they were allowed to eat as they wanted many of them found that they could not stop eating when they were full and generally ate more than they thought they wanted or was good for them. They continued to be preoccupied with food and some reported that their cravings were even worse than before. Many had cravings for specific foods such as sweets dairy products and nuts. Many of them snacked between meals even if they had not done so before. Another four weeks later ten of the 15 men who were still in touch with the researchers became so anxious about their weight that they put themselves on another diet and a few were continuing to eat prodigious quantities. Three moths after the experiment food was still a major concern for 15 out of the 24 men and this continued for a further 8 months after the diet was over.
Psychologists called Herman and Polivy at the University of Toronto have underlined the effect of food restriction on willpower in an experiment on dieting and non dieting students who were invited to eat as much ice cream as they liked after being given three different “pre loads” - one glass of milk shake, two milk shakes or nothing at all.
While the non-dieters behaved as expected, eating less ice cream after one milk shake than none, and even less ice cream after two, the dieters actually ate most ice cream after the biggest “pre load”.
According to the psychologist the effect of the milk shake was to undermine the dieters resolve, temporarily releasing them from their vows of abstinence. After the milk shake , instead of doing penance for the calorific sin, the dieter persists in sinful indulgence, say the psychologists. After all, if staying on the diet is no longer possible then why not make the most of the situation. This seductive thought process - I may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb - is a trap which awaits all dieters. After succumbing to one biscuit you feel such a failure you consume the whole packet. You decide to ditch the diet for the day and start again tomorrow.
But as Herman and Polivy point out, in anticipation of deprivation to come, dieters indulgences " the night before" can reach legendary proportions. The seeming inability of diets to stop once they have started stem from the Faustian bargain they made with themselves at the start. Included in the loss of normal internal controls are the normal processes involving satiety. Dieters do not eat interminably once their rules are broken but they eat far more than non dieters do.
By denying themselves food, dieters also make it much more important. Dieters are more likely than nondieters to turn to food when they are emotionally anxious or depressed. This phenomenon is created by dieting itself. At a recent study carried out in London, female volunteers were divided into three groups, the first went on a strict diet, the second a rigorous exercise programme and the third neither dieted nor exercised.
After 5 weeks the subjects took part in an experiment which assessed their food intake while watching a stressful film. Bowls of sweets and nuts were left beside them and they were told to eat as they liked. Women in the diet group ate far more than the others.
So it seems the effects of reducing food intake for a period of time are powerful… and what makes these experiments interesting is that the first described the experience of men who are not unduly concerned about food and weight. They experienced feelings and thoughts which are not unlike those experienced by people with anorexia - with their concerns about hoarding food and seeing themselves to be fatter than they were. What is more, the experience of dieting in itself - irrespective of personality and background engendered in the men in the Keys experiment, a concern about food and weight which they had not experienced previously. It is not unfair to assume that dieting will create these effects in all who try it out.
Aside from the psychological and physiological effects of dieting, when we consider advising people to diet we must bear in mind what we know about they way human beings respond to and comply with any kind of advice, medical and otherwise. Compliance will always be affected by the process itself whether it is simple or complex, the degree of behavioural change needed and whether it fits with the personality and lifestyle of the person. Compliance will be affected by the value of the outcome, and the goals of dieting - weight loss - may contain unrecognised difficulties if achieved. Compliance is also affected by many factors in the dieter herself, including beliefs about his or her personal efficacy, ability to handle lapses, singularity of purpose and ability to muster the right kind of social support. Kelly Brownell has also identified a crucial element influencing the prognosis of dieting behave which he defines as “emotional readiness.” This concept proposes that in order for dieting to be successful one has to go into “training” for the it in much the same way as one would go into training for other projects like climbing a mountain or studying for an exam."
As a constantly-failing dieter myself, I have started looking into the psychology of failing at dieting.
I realise that most of the T-Nation will just think they can cowboy-up and “will” their way through, but is will-power really the only weapon we have against these issues?
I realise that protein, supplements, exercise and circumstance (eg. no bad food in the house etc) can help to reduce appetite, but this article does bring up the question as to even if dieting is successful in the short term, whether it will produce further psychological food issues in the long term.