Why some fail to lose Weight – Restraint theory


Quick Summary: Restraint theory suggests that restrictive diets lead to failure and in some cases actually increase weight gain. The theory was developed after research was showing that people on restrictive (don’t eat any of these ‘bad’ foods diets) had almost an 80% rate of failure and people were often gaining back more weight than they had when they started the diet. This post will look at how restraint theory can explain some of the failures of weight loss programs and will finish with a more reasonable solution for people trying to lose weight.


Restraint theory has gained increased popularity and as such there is quite a lot of research out there as to its affect on weight loss. From the research that I read (not all of it) it does not appear that the scientific community has isolated why some people can restrain themselves while others cannot.


Restraint theory is based on the age-old truism that people (and other animals) want something more when they are told that they cannot have it.

  • Some researchers have proposed that increasing restraint surrounding the ingestion of something you enjoy might actually increase your desire for that something, which can lead to overindulgence in that something.


Restraint theory goes a step farther to suggest that many people have the intention of restraining themselves from something they perceive as enjoyable yet potentially detrimental, but very few people actually have the self-discipline or self-control to actually restrain themselves.


Currently a large percentage of the population who suffers from obesity is well aware that obesity is linked to a vast array of terminal illnesses… this knowledge has unfortunately not helped to curb the yearly increase in the number of people with obesity concerns in this country…. Why?


Restrain theory suggests that in some cases it is actually more difficult to restrain one’s self from eating a highly desired unhealthy food than it is to accept the consequence of a possible early death…. it can be harder to restrain than to accept death.


If desire is increased by restraint and restraint is not possible for a given person than a restrictive diet can actually lead to an increase in binging behavior… the researchers have been investigating if this is the reason why people on restrictive diets can often end up gaining more weight than they had when they began the diet.


What is the solution? As with everything in life the answer once again seems to be moderation.


Fast and dramatic weight loss is an unrealistic goal for the majority of the population.


Creating realistic eating and exercise behaviors which facilitate weight maintenance with slow weight loss can have success.


Realistic Eating Behavior involves allowing you’re self to eat the foods that feel too difficult to live without in more moderate portion sizes while finding healthier alternatives for food that you have a moderate or low desire for.

  • Write down the foods that you cannot live without and stop when it feels as though the foods on your list would be sufficient to meet your most significant food desire needs (most people have fewer than ten).
  • Write down the ‘not so healthy’ foods that you eat that you only get moderate or low satisfaction from (these are food that you don’t find yourself having a debilitating desire for).


Practical Nutrition Intervention – take these two lists to a nutritionist such as Franziska K Bishop, MS (www.nutritionbyfranziska.com or www.justalittlechocolate.com) and ask her to help you to create reasonable portion sizes for your favorite ‘not so healthy’ food and healthy and tasty alternatives for your moderate to low desire/satisfaction foods.


Restriction theory suggests that it is better to allow yourself the highly desired food close to the origination of the desire… the theory states that if you restrain yourself all day (as opposed to allowing consumption sooner) you are more likely to eat a larger quantity of the relevant food.


STOP and Pay ATTENTION to your THOUGHTS – many of you are having thoughts right now which will serve to sabotage your chances of achieving physical wellness…

  • “If this blog post can’t tell me how to lose weight quickly I will find another Post that will.”
  • PEOPLE have been SELLING snake oil (False Hope) for thousands of years… you must allow yourself to overcome the suggestions of the manipulators to reach success.
  • The cognitive component of weight loss can be found at http://www.thoughtsfromatherapist.com/2011/03/07/combined-wellness-intervention/


This is only the first of a long series of explorations that I will be making surrounding Weight loss… there is a huge psychological component to this concern and it is time for us to pool our resource to help as best as we can.


Physical wellness has an affect on just about every single topic I can think of related to psychotherapy (relationship satisfaction, depression, motivation etc) … it is time that the fields converge around this topic.





William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.
William Hambleton Bishop
William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

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