If you have ever heard of the term reverse psychology, you know it means doing the opposite of what you would intuitively think is logical to get the result you want. If you have children, you know that they sometimes go through rebellious stages. Since they seem to want to do the opposite of what you tell them, sometimes it works to tell them the opposite of what you want. Similarly, in coaching situations, it sometimes works to tell people that they can’t do something. This helps them rise to the challenge to prove their coach wrong. Reverse psychology is tricky and doesn’t work with all people in all situations.
Changing our diet is challenging because we need food to live and eating habits are deeply ingrained in our psyche. One of the things that I love about the ketogenic diet is that it encourages you to eat regular meals and eat until you are full.
Does reverse psychology work with dieting? The answer is at least sometimes?
A study split 262 overweight or obese people into groups changing their home food environment or receiving cognitive therapy to help them change the way they think about food.
When people are reminded how challenging weight loss really is, they experience greater self-control, new research finds.
People in the study told that their self-control is weak, and the temptations too strong, fought back in their minds against the suggestion. It’s reverse psychology. Being reminded of the obstacles — such as tempting foods and the wrong genes — encourages the mind to strengthen its resolve.
Professor Michael Lowe, the study’s first author, explained:
“We said, ‘It’s impressive and encouraging that you are taking this step to improve your weight and health, but we need to help you understand the daunting challenges you’re facing.’
The reason we did this was not to discourage them, but to give them a more realistic sense of how crucial it is for them to make lasting changes in their parts of the food environment that they could control.”
The study compared two different types of weight loss programme in 262 overweight and obese people.
One focused on changing the home food environment (HFE) and the other on cognitive therapy.
The results revealed that both groups lost similar amounts of weight.
However, part of the home food environment intervention involved reminding people how hard it is to lose weight.
They were also reminded how weak their self-control was — and that made their self-control stronger.
This is reverse psychology, said Professor Lowe:
“…by questioning the usefulness of building self-control skills, the HFE treatment may have bolstered the very capacity it was meant to downplay — stronger self-control with regard to food.”
Weight loss is hard and that needs to be acknowledged, said Professor Lowe:
“Rather than acting as cheerleaders giving facile encouragement, leaders of weight loss groups might serve their clients better by providing a more sobering description of the challenges participants face.”
“The nutrition-focused intervention studied here produced modestly greater long-term weight loss than BT, an effect that was largely explainable by an unexpected boost in cognitive restraint in this condition.”
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Michael R Lowe, Meghan L Butryn, Fengqing Zhang (2018). Evaluation of meal replacements and a home food environment intervention for long-term weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 107, Issue 1, 1 January 2018, Pages 12–19, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqx005
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