Discuss explanations for the success and/or failure of dieting. (8 marks + 16 marks)

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Discuss explanations for the success/failure of dieting (24 marks)
One explanation for the failure of dieting is the restraint theory proposed by Herman and Mack
(1975). The theory suggests that a cognitive boundary on attempting not to eat ironically increases
the probability of eating. People often fail because the dieter has periods of restraint followed by
periods of disinhibition; a result of eating more than normal through loosening restraints in response
to influences such as emotional distress.
In an attempt to explain why dieting might lead to overeating, the `boundary model' illustrates how
hunger keeps intake of food above a certain minimum and satiety prevents us from overeating.
Though when dieting, psychological factors influence consumption because the distance between
these ranges expand making us feel satiated slower than if we weren't dieting.
Wardle and Beales (1988) validated research into the restraint theory by assigning 27 obese women
to three groups; diet, exercise and a control group. Results after 7 weeks in lab assessments showed
that women in the diet condition ate more than the other women, implying that overeating is caused
by dieting itself.
Research support comes from Ogden (2003) who tested the failure of dieting by giving a group of
dieters and non-dieters a high or low calorie preload (such as chocolate or crackers) followed by a
`taste preference' of other foods. Ogden measured how much `taste food' they ate and found that
dieters who had a high calorie preload ate more, therefore these results suggest that although
dieters eat less on some occasions, restrained eating is also associated with more at other times,
supporting the restraint theory explanation of dieting.
Furthermore, Ogden's study can be praised on methodological grounds for being a lab experiment
with greater control over the independent variable (food preload) and dependent variable (amount
eaten, making it highly controlled and objective when drawing out cause& effect conclusions on what
causes the failure of dieting.
In addition, participants believed they were tasted on test though they were actually measured on
their biological and unconscious processes; as a result participants can't exhibit demand
characteristics which thus raises the mundane realism of the study to make it more credible.
On the other hand participants were being deceived which breaches the BPS's ethical guidelines,
therefore making the study unreplicable and unethical. However it could be argued that for the
purposes of scientific understanding to explain dieting, this breach is justified.
However, although Ogden argues that the restraint theory may explain overeating of people with
disordered eating patterns (such as bulimics and dieters), it's a reductionist explanation by not being
able to explain all disorders such as anorexia. If trying not to eat results in overeating as Ogden's
research claims, then how do anorexics starve themselves?
It is likely that a number of genetic components exert an influence on eating; suggesting that the
restraint theory may be a deterministic explanation, influenced by factors other than an individual's
choice of lifestyle. For instance the lipoprotein lipase (LPL) is an enzyme produced by fat cells to store
calories. LPL also makes it easier to regain lost weight, suggesting a genetic reason may explain the
failure of dieting, not solely a cognitive explanation, thus this can be praised when combined for
encompassing both the nature/nurture side of the debate.
Another explanation for the failure of dieting is the role of denial which suggests that attempting to
suppress thoughts of foods is counterproductive and has the opposite effect. For example Wegner
(1987) asked half a sample of participants to not think about a white bear, but to ring a bell if they

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Those instructed not to rung the bell significantly more than those who were not instructed to.
Therefore as soon as a food is denied, it becomes more attractive and likely to be eaten which ruins
the diet.
Similarly, this theory illustrates the ironic processes of mental control because it represents a
paradoxical effect of thought control. Diets often fail because when a restricted food becomes
forbidden, the denied food becomes more attractive making attempts to suppress it difficult.…read more

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