Many dietitians and obesity experts have their own pet theories for the generally low level of diet compliance. In my opinion, based on 25 years of helping more than 200,000 dieters, the biggest mistake made by dieters is not eating enough.
Why do I say this? Because hunger, not overeating, is the real enemy of weight control. Even the most powerful incentive to lose weight and even the strongest willpower is helpless in the face of hunger. Here are two examples.
You’re trying to lose weight. One morning you skip breakfast because you oversleep. Then, on arrival at work, a colleague puts a hot bacon sandwich under your nose and offers you a bite. How do you respond?
The following morning you don’t oversleep and you enjoy a proper breakfast. A colleague tries to tempt you in the same way as before. Now how do you respond?
I’m sure you’ll agree that while either situation may lead you astray, the first one is much more difficult to cope with.
The most common cause for eating too little – aside from skipping breakfast – is allowing too much time to elapse between meals. Typically, dieters eat too few calories during the day. The consequences of this are twofold.
First, they leave themselves wide open to temptation at work, as in the above example. Second, by returning home starving, they are extremely vulnerable to temptation lurking in the refrigerator, and also to any let’s-dine-out suggestions from partners or friends. In either case, the poor hungry dieter is almost helpless to resist.
Why Hunger Destroys Willpower
In normal circumstances, our hunger is controlled by the amount of sugar in our bloodstream – called blood-sugar, or blood-glucose. If it falls below a certain level, the brain tells us to eat. Then, as we consume food, it is digested and converted to sugar in our stomach, after which it enters our bloodstream, causing our blood sugar to rise and eliminating our sense of hunger.
As you can see, going without food leads directly to a fall in blood glucose, which – as stated – leads to hunger pangs as well as feelings of lightheadedness and tiredness. Once this type of body chemistry kicks in, even the most motivated dieter is likely to fold.
Dieting is difficult enough without adding to the problem. So if you want to make it as easy as possible to reduce weight, never go hungry. If this means eating a little extra, all well and good. The best possible protection against diet-failure is not willpower or motivation, it’s a full stomach.