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  • Jasmine Blake, MS, HHP

Dieting Impact: The Psychological Relationship Between People, Cheating, and Food

The worse effect that dieting has on the body is the failure to have control over our emotions when trying to eat healthy. That's really it. Food is a psychological relationship with our mind, and it is hard to commit to ourselves. The impact I see as a nutritionist is poor confidence, refute to change, and lack of knowledge. Sometimes, we observe what others are eating, and we decide to eat similarly. Sometimes we get upset and eat to feel better. Other times, we make ourselves promises; and have a belief we can cheat on certain days on our diets in promise to get back on track the next day. Which leads me to the question at hand:

  1. If I give a person a diet of some form, to commit to, and educate them on extreme health complications due to dieting; then are they still likely to cheat on their diet? or

  2. If I give a person a diet of some form, to commit to, and decide not to educate them; will they cheat on their diet as opposed to not having a commitment or purpose for dieting at all?

Regardless of the questions above, we still seem to fail our commitment. So, is cheating, actually cheating? Or is it, in fact, failing; then afterward, we continue to falter? The real question is, do we know we are even doing this?

How can we know we are doing something poorly if we are aware or not educated enough to understand our choices? As people who have goals when we commit, part of that commitment is going above and beyond to seek additional information about the decision we are dedicating ourselves to. For example, the choice we could choose to make could be to eat a healthier diet. As goal-setters, we should evaluate our objectives continually to ensure we are still on the right track. In the case of eating a healthier diet, one way to ensure we are on track would be to make sure that we are shopping for organic foods. Another approach could be to promise to stop eating at quick-service restaurants. This way, we can make sense of all of our choices when faced with the toughest of them. In like, following through with seeking additional information about our decisions, and if they the right decision, will help us complete our goals or move away from our goals effectively. For example, if eating out, a person should go out of their way to view the online menu. This will help educate them to be sure there are foods that they can eat at particular restaurants before visiting them.

Other ways to educate ourselves and understand our choices are seeking professional advice. Most importantly, the best way to get expert information about dieting is to see a nutritionist. Nutritionists evaluate the clients educational level of their desired goals and how to help teach them how to accomplish them. They also assess the client's mental readiness level and capability of completing the desired goal.


Nutritionists cover common topics like:

  1. "Why is it that when people are faced with diet decisions, they fail?"

  2. "Helping clients to control emotions and eating."

  3. "Teaching clients to make easy meals to help them manage tasks."

  4. "Finding which foods help their minds work effectively." and

  5. "How can we get the client to simply just eat better for their health?"

The problem clients seem to deal with today is the poor choices their society has given them to choose from. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is one of the most debated topics in our country today. This diet is part of the reason our people have no control over what they can and cannot eat. SAD is not a fad, and it is a problem and very much has an impact on the daily decisions we make. This diet is real, with a tangible impact on our people. People travel day and night to complete tasks and others for work, and they are left with no healthy choices as to what they eat while commuting. As well, most travel containers carried on commutes, do not work effectively nor cannot be brought into ports. What is worse is that our people think eating this way is okay and cool. Their uneducated insights about their societies food ensures their poor decision making. I'm not sure which has the lower standard, the impact our societal diet has on our mental ability to make correct choices, or the impact our mental status has on our ability to differentiate between societal influence and real available food.

Men and women of all shapes, sizes, races, and nationalities, regardless of religion, are lined up in quick-service restaurants every day. While most have no clue what is going on, surprisingly, there are quite a few that do. They know the food is of poor quality, and the decision they are about to make it even more unfortunate. Some also take surveys while out and about and knowingly still opt for what they have just said they know is not suitable for their bodies. With health conditions, while their health continues to decline, they again will choose the latter. Although completely aware, people still seem to cheat on their diets even when they know some consequences are to follow. This behavior may have to do with rationalization.

Rationalization seems to be a reason for people to cheat on their diets and make poor health decisions continually. In a study conducted in a private room setting, where the study was controlled, the results were that at least 75% of the participants had cheated. The cheating was unrelated to food type, having access to seconds, and whether the food was easily accessible or not. Uneducated people, simply put, were more likely to cheat on their diets than people who were educated. The most likely explanation for an outcome of this nature is that people were uneducated about health aspects. In addition, despite the relevance of education, some people seem to continue to rationalize their poor decision making, while remaining unconfident enough to use the excuse to cheat. Planned deviations such as cheating on a diet detach people "from the focal goal and should be avoided since they are detrimental to goal attainment." [2]. However, people view these deviations as being able to do some good in the long run. They feel like helps them "persist in their personal quests, especially those that involve the repeated inhibition of behaviors." [2]. I often wonder as a nutritionist could rationalization really be an excuse for emotional detachment to dieting. Thus, being used to reject the commitment of change.

When discussing behavior and emotional impact concerning food, we evidence this by assessing change. Change is what will help us with achieving goals and helps us accept goals. Change is difficult, and it is unwarranted. Yet, change is perfectly natural, according to Charles Darwin anyway. Therefore it shouldn't affect our decision-making process. Baumeister and Bushman (2014) say, "we need food and water regularly." [1]. So, if we modify our diets and promise not to cheat, are we really changing the fact that we need food and water? Is this modification so difficult that we are emotionally inclined not to accept it? How can our emotions negotiate this basic instinct? The answer to this is obvious. We have aggressive impulses, desire, need for companionship. These trigger the behavior to want to diet, to fit in, or be accepted merely. These are instinctive characteristics. What is also instinctive is our constant need for food and water. Therefore, dieting choices (such as cheating) should not be impacted by our emotions since this change isn't relevant to our basic instincts. In other words, rejecting change is an emotional excuse to fail at our commitment.

"Many theories of moral behavior assume that unethical behavior triggers negative affect," such as failing at a commitment. [4]. If your goal is unrealistic and unmeasurable, the situation will eventually trigger a negative response. For instance, if I say I'm never going to eat at fast food again, knowing I travel long distances for work. This is an unrealistic goal and will most likely lead to a negative outcome. Adverse outcomes such as this will definitely influence the individual feeling inclined to cheat on their diet. However, if educated about local food sources and where to find optimal food options, they will not feel the same relationship with food that they had before. As well, since "the function of emotion is to coordinate the body to the mind," this would make more sense as to why people may cheat on their diets. [3]. They cheat because they cannot commit to their unrealistic goal, and this makes them feel better about failing it.

In conclusion, it seems reasonable to assume that there are always cheaters. The relationship between each individual and food is the factoring variable. However, if a person is well educated on extreme health complications, will they likely cheat on their diets? The possibility for effective behavior change is low. Even if people know the relationship to eating foods that do more harm than good, they will still choose the latter. Also, the average person will still reject change and imply rationalization. The challenge for nutritionists is to accept these facts and guide clients during this change process and understand the psychological impact food has on dieting.

References:

  1. Baumeister, R. F. & Bushman, B. J. (2014). Social psychology and human nature, Brief. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning

  2. Coelho do Vale, R., Pieters, R., & Zeelenberg, M. (n.d.) The Benefits of Behaving Badly on Occasion: Successful Regulation by Planned Hedonic Deviations. Retrieved April 16th, 2017, from LINK: https://www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-consumer-psychology/forthcoming-articles/the-benefits-of-behaving-badly-on-occasion-successful

  3. Pally, R. (1998). Emotional Processing: The Mind-Body Connection. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/openview/7026c109d76ac586c87a13ab6be98ba7/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=1818729

  4. Ruedy, N. E., London, C. M, Gino, F., & Schweitzer, M. E. (2012). Attitudes and Social Cognition: The Cheater’s High.The Unexpected Affective Benefits of Unethical Behavior. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-a0034231.pdf

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