This is a transcript from an interview with Dr. Traci Mann on why think people do not have more willpower than fat people and how the body changes to thwart attempts at self-control when we diet.
0:00 CARI: This is Cari Corbet- Owen from caricorbetowen.com talking to dr Tracy Mann from the Eating lab. Traci tell me about your own personal story and how you got interested in weight?
0:14 DR. MANN: I did one diet once second year of high school, it lasted about three weeks it was not fun, I hated it. It was shocking to me why anyone would do it. My parents were constant dieters: on again, off again losing and regaining it all. It all looked just nuts to me so it never fully got into my head that it was a good thing to do I feel like I got a slightly weird view of dieting from that experience but the thing that started doing research on it was the first time I read an article about obesity in grad school and it just floored me because everything that scientific papers showed to be true was the opposite of everything I'd always heard. What was that paper?…. I believe that paper was the one that looked at food diaries - how much people over the course of two weeks and they compared to how much fat people ate versus thin people.
Are we allowed to use the word ‘fat’? I never know whether it’s ok. It’s just a word, not a judgement - just a description.
What these studies showed is that there wasn't a difference of calories eaten between thin and fat people and that just floored me because all I ever hear is that fat people are over eating extraordinarily people and thin people are resisting everything. Not true! Not true! That’s just not how it is and then I started learning about the genetics of weight, weight is 70% genetically determined so we have very little wiggle room in there and that fascinated me. All those things interested me.
2.03 CARI: Traci you've written a fantastic book 'Secrets from the Eating Lab' why did you think it was necessary to write this book?
2.05: DR. MANN: I needed to write this book because I got so sick of people blaming dieters when they lose weight and regain it. People constantly say they have no self control they're weak, they just didn't want it enough... all kinds of things like that and I just couldn't take it anymore. So I wanted to write this book so that I could clarify why people regain weight after dieting and then what they can do instead to be healthy
2:41 CARI: what do you think is wrong?
DR. MANN: people don't necessarily know that the large majority of people who lose weight on diet regain it plus even extra weight. So if you look at sort of all the studies of diet all the long-term, randomized controlled trials, the gold standard, if you look at the ones that followed dieters for at least two years what you find that the average amount of weight regain is all but two pounds. I've also heard (and this number isn’t my own but it seems fairly convincing) that only five percent of dieters keep the weight that they took off in the long run. Majority of people gain it back. Are we really do believe that all those people are weak? I mean it doesn't even make sense. I'm a social psychologist and in social psychology when we see a large majority of people behaving all the same way we know it's not about the person, we know it's about something bigger than the person, something about the environment, something physical. it's not a person's own will and that's definitely the case with dieting.
3.50: So when it comes to dieting, and I think this is the biggest misconception, willpower is not your friend and willpower is not what separates the thin the fat it's just basically if willpower is going to work for you it has to be a hundred percent and nobody is 100% perfect and here's why I say that: picture this situation, we've all been and some version of the situation. You are in a meeting and somebody, some loverly colleague, comes with the box of doughnuts and that's great, that's awesome of them, but suppose you’re trying to resist that doughnut. To resist it, you have resist it repeatedly. This is not just one act of self control - right, you resisted it when they come in - great, but then the box is still sitting there and you're in that meeting for an hour. Every time you glance over to wherever that box is you have to resist it again. Another act of self control. So if you resisted nineteen times but then on the 20th time you have a moment of weakness and you eat it, you don't get credit for those nineteen impressive access self control - right? You're just the same as someone who only resisted it twice.
5.20 So with eating willpower does not really work because prior successes at will power get sort of wiped away - kind of erased by a failure of will power. Does that make sense? Like other activities a failure of self control doesn’t erase all the previous stuff. So studying for test is a good example of self control. You have to focus on it, you can't like slack off and start, you know, sending email you have to focus on it If you have a moment of weakness and you suddenly start looking at your email and you do that like five minutes yeah you lose five minutes of studying but that doesn't erase all the studying that came before. But for eating these little tiny failures of self control erase your previous successes and because of that - and this is maybe the technical part -because of that basically erases the differences between people. The only distinction in terms of how good they are just doesn't matter. The only thing that matters are the total extremes of the scale which most people aren’t.
6.12 CARI: So are their people with great control?
6.29 DR. MANN: whenever I tell people that I study self control of eating or willpower, they always tell me that they have terrible willpower. They always say oh my gosh you know tell me your secrets I need help with that. And they all say it is it's their own unique situation when really it's everybody. You know, I mean I've never encountered, you know I’ve been doing this for 20 years, I've never heard anybody say to me my willpower is great, you should study me, you know nobody's ever done that. So everybody thinks their willpower is bad because nobodys is perfect and unless it's perfect it is gonna feel like it's bad.
7.00 And negative looms larger than positive we see that all through psychology, that you see that in all kinds of things that have nothing to do with weight.
7.16 So back to willpower. The other reason I think that people think they have bad willpower is because they go on diets and regain the weight. I've already mentioned that most people regain the weight. Now the reason people regain weight is not because of their bad willpower - we all have bad willpower. We’re even when it comes to will power there are no differences there. The reason people regain weight after dieting is because when you diet, when you restrict the amount you're eating you put your body into a state of deprivation and our body has evolved to respond to certain way to that state of deprivation and all of those things it does makes it easy to regain weight and way too hard to keep it off.
8.00 So three kinds of things your body does in response to deprivation: one of them, one kind of change that happens is hormone changes so the levels of different hormones change as they're flowing through your body. So hormones that help you feel full, those levels of those go down but hormones that keep you feeling hungry those go up to after dieting you're more likely to feel hungry even if you eat the same stuff that didn't leave you feeling hungry before. That is harsh, that is not fair. So that’s hormone type changes. Um, metabolic changes, I think people sort of have a sense of this already, but after dieting your metabolism changes your body gets really good at running itself on fewer calories than normal and what that means is you have more left over to store as far. What that means is that you can eat the same number of calories but instead of losing weight now you're staying the same. You can be eating the same amount of calories that you were eating while losing weight but now you don't lose weight anymore you stay the same are you regain and yet people blame this all the time on their own willpower. It's not.
9.00 It's the hormones, it’s the metabolism and there’s also neurological change, brain changes. When your body senses deprivation all these different neurological changes happen. Just to name a couple… your attention changes so your brain becomes highly attuned to food. It's more likely to notice food around you when it does notice food it sort of locks onto it, it’s hard to get your mind off of food, you get preoccupied with thoughts of food and every dieter will tell you that. But not only that, the reward response changes so you get a bigger reward hit when you when you look at food it’s even more rewarding that makes it much harder to resist you putting things together and so dieters are in a difficult battle
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