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Flexible Dieting and Why It Doesn't Work

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When Kathie Lee Gifford wants to shed a few pounds, she does it by making a rule for herself; not to have bread, for example, or maybe sweets, for a certain time period, say from Thanksgiving until New Year's Day, for example. On her morning show Kathie Lee and Hoda, she doesn't so much announce it as repeat her rule to herself: "I can't have that until Easter!" she can be heard mumbling. She doesn't agonize about it. She just made up her mind. It's her rule. On the cooking segments of her show, I've watched her shake her head when offered a bite of her forbidden food, muttering to herself, "Mmm, hmm -- nope. Can't have that." Then she takes a taste of something else.

I was intrigued, but I didn't realize that there was an actual scientific method to her madness until I recently stumbled across this article from Psychology Today's blog called, "The Good Life." It's about happiness. How to get it, increase it, keep it, spread it.

This particular article wasn't about foods or diets, but concerned morality and honesty. The study seemed to have found that people who kept the option to lie open had to struggle to be honest. This made me think of people who embark on a diet, but don't have a food plan.

It's incredibly hard to stick with a diet that has shifting rules. Participants in this honesty test who had a principled stance against cheating didn't have to consider the benefits of lying each time they gave their answer. They just answered. Truthfully, no prob. But those who had to exert self-control to be honest weren't necessarily liars, but folks who had a more flexible set of answers in this situation. Because cheating was an option, they had to override the instinct to take the easy reward. Think about that in dieting terms -- because the Girl Scout cookies are in the cupboard and you can either have them or not, it makes your diet that much harder. But you can't eat cookies that you didn't buy.

In the honesty study these scientists called it flexible morality and it seemed similar to what I now see as flexible dieting. Meaning that if dieters don't have a firm set of rules to stick to, when they find themselves faced with a birthday cake, they tend to just eat it.

As far as the Honesty study, they found that if you have a commitment to honesty, and don't have to weigh the pros and cons of each opportunity to lie for your own benefit, it's not nearly as difficult to tell the truth. As this applies to weight control, a firm commitment to your diet along with some absolute rules, especially if they are time-measurable, meaning that they have an end date: "I can have chocolate after Columbus Day" feels better than "I can never have chocolate again." Then you mentally don't have to agonize every time your co-workers bring in homemade cookies or order pizza for lunch. "Oh well," you say, not only to yourself, but also to all your co-workers, "Nope. Cant have those until after my class reunion."

On The Today Show, Hoda often rolled her eyes when Kathie demurred. But we all have to face that with our girlfriends, our mothers and other food-pushers. If we women want to get to our comfortable weight, we need to care less about the eye-rollers and just say "No. But thank you."

Think of it as if your choice is already made. Have you ever had to have medical tests done in the morning and have to fast the night before? If so, do you ever stand desperately at the open refrigerator door at 11 p.m., moping and debating about whether to have the last of the chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream?

Like Dr. Phil says, "You don't have to like it. You just have to do it." I also noticed that once Kathie Lee got to one of her goal dates, she'd have her forbidden treat on that day, then make another rule for herself to follow until a future date. Once it was no bread; another time, no sweets. I'm waiting for her to make the "no wine" rule. If she can do it, I might be inspired to try the same. 2015-10-06-1444139211-7087160-KathieLeeandHodaEndBoozeFreeMonth2.jpg