Most diets fail because people focus on avoiding the foods they enjoy rather than on preparing healthy meals they actually like eating, scientists have said. The worse strategy – which leads people to frequently stop their diet – involves ditching their favourite foods to replace them with less-desirable options.
When it comes to dieting in order to achieve health-related goals, there are essentially two strategies, defined in the study as an 'approach' strategy' and an 'avoidance' strategy.
The first one involves focusing on healthy foods that people like and should include in their diet, while the second one is based on people excluding the unhealthy foods they prefer. The former tends to work better than the latter.
The research, published in Psychology & Marketing, also shows that the strategy individuals select often depends on their level of self-control when it comes to food.
Brussels Sprout or strawberries
The team from Baylor University analysed the findings of three studies involving a total of 542 participants who were asked about what they ate, their strategy to maintain a successful diet-plan and people's levels of self-control and ability to reach their goals.
They discovered that for most individuals, the 'avoidance strategy" guided their food consumption. This was particularly the case for 'low self-control individuals' – those who generally had less success in reaching their goals.
When thinking of healthy foods they should include as part of their diet, these low self-control individuals mentioned foods they disliked and found highly unpalatable, like Brussels sprouts. This of course makes it harder to stick to the diet. In contrast, high self-control individuals decided to include healthy foods that they did enjoy, like strawberries.
"Our research shows that instead of creating rules to avoid one's favourite treats, dieters should focus on eating healthy foods that they enjoy," lead author Meredith David says. "Dieters who restrict themselves from consuming the foods they love most may be setting themselves up for failure. Instead, they may be better off by allowing occasional 'treats' and focusing attention on healthy foods that they enjoy and making it a point to include those tasty, but healthy foods in their diet."
Individuals who are generally more successful at reaching their goals could prove to be an inspiration for other dieters, as they develop more motivating plans regarding the inclusion of healthy, well-liked items and the exclusion of unhealthy items that are not one's favourites.