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Discuss explanations for the success and/or failure of dieting. (4 marks + 16 marks)
The restraint theory proposed by Herman and Mack (1975) was an attempt to explain both
the causes and consequences associated with the cognitive restriction of food intake.
People often fail dieting because the dieter has periods of restraint followed by periods of
disinhibition; a result of eating more than normal through loosening restraints.
Herman and Polivy (1984) explained why this happened by highlighting a `hunger line' to keep
us from eating too little, and a satiety line to prevent us from eating too much.
However, when dieting, the distance between these two lines increases which leads us
waiting too long before eating and then needing to eat more to feel satisfied (above the
maximum level imposed as part of their diet).
Research support chiefly comes from Wardle and Beales who assigned 27 women to one of
three groups; restrained eating, exercise or a control group. After 7 weeks it was found that
the women in the restrained eating group ate more than women in the other 2 groups,
therefore exemplifying how the food boundary had widened and caused the restrained group
to eat more.
Wardle and Beales' research has success as supporting evidence for the failure of dieting
because of its methodology as a lab experiment with greater controls over variables, such as
how much food was eaten, making it easier to draw cause & effect conclusions on dieting.
However, Ogden argued that the restraint theory may explain the overeating of some
groups with disordered eating patterns (such as bulimics and dieters), however the
behaviour of restricting anorexics can't be explained this way. If trying not to eat results in
overeating, this cannot be generalised to anorexics who manage to starve themselves-
therefore the restraint theory is only relevant to particular groups, therefore lacking in
external validity as an explanation.
In addition, it's also likely that a number of genetic mechanisms exert an influence on weight
and dieting, suggesting the restraint theory may be a reductionist explanation because it
fails to take in organic causes into account.
For instance, the lipoprotein lipase gene (LPL) is an enzyme produced by fat cells to store
calories as fat. LPL makes it easier to regain lost weight, suggesting a genetic reason for the
failure of dieting, not just a cognitive explanation such as the restraint theory.
Another explanation for the failure of dieting is the role of denial which suggests that
attempting to suppress or deny a thought frequently has the opposite effect, making you
think about it more, known as an ironic mental process. With respect to diets, Wegner
suggests a thought to suppress a forbidden food (such as a doughnut) only increases the
dieter's preoccupation with the very food they are trying to deny.
To test this theory, Soetens used an independent groups design by splitting participants into
a restrained and unrestrained group (which was then split into low and high disinhibition). The
disinhibited group used more suppression than other groups but showed a rebound effect
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This suggests that restrained eaters who tend to
overeat try to suppress thoughts about food more often, but end up thinking about it more
afterwards- this therefore supports the role of denial to explain why diets end up failing.
On the other hand, Soetens relied on the personal accounts of the participants which
implies there are limitations on participants' memory.…read more