IT’S long been suspected by women constantly watching their waistlines, but now scientists have confirmed that dieting can actually make you fatter.
New research into diet and nutrition has found that the more you deny your body high-calorie food – the more likely you are to binge on it once you hit your target weight.
The findings could also apply to the popular 5:2 diet – which requires two days of eating just 500 calories, followed by five days of “normal” eating.
The recent study, carried out by Dr Eric Stice at the Oregon Research Institute, looked at why, once the diet is over, many people pile on the pounds again.
The main findings showed that the longer people restricted the amount of calories they ate, the larger their craving for high calorie foods became.
Dr Stice, who has been studying eating disorders and obesity for 20 years, said: “The story is a familiar one: most people are able to lose weight while dieting but once the diet is over, the weight comes back.
“Many of us can personally attest that caloric deprivation weight loss diets typically do not produce lasting weight loss.
“Results suggest that restricting food intake increases the reward value of food, particularly high-calorie, appetising food such as chocolate milkshakes and that the more successful people are at caloric-restriction dieting, the greater difficulty they will face in maintaining the restriction.
“Additionally, abstaining from food intake for longer durations of time also increases the reward value of food, which may lead to poor food choices when the individual eventually does eat.”
He added that people going for the longest times without food were also the most likely to pile the weight back on, and suggested they would see better results by eating healthy snacks rather than not eating at all.
“Results imply that dieting characterised by meal skipping and fasting would be less successful than weight loss efforts characterised by intake of low energy, healthy foods,” he said.
As part of the study, researchers took two groups of adolescents who restricted their calorie intake.
They then recorded the “reward” activity in their brains when showing them pictures of palatable foods, unpalatable foods and glasses of water.
The team also measured the groups’ neural responses to consumption and anticipated consumption of a chocolate milkshake and a calorie-free tasteless solution.
Dr Stice then examined whether the number of hours since their last caloric intake, which varied from three to 22, matched the brain activity in response to being given palatable food.
Talking of the research published in the journal NeuroImage, he said: “These results are unique in that these data are the first to suggest that elective caloric restriction increases the degree to which brain regions, implicated in reward valuation and attention, are activated by exposure to palatable foods.
“The implications of this imaging study are crystal clear; if people want to lose excess weight, it would be more effective to consume healthy, low-fat/low-sugar foods during regular meals, rather than go for long periods of time without any caloric intake.”