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Successful Dieting Depends On Cognitive Simplicity

Posted Jan 15 2010 12:00am

According to this article, it is not just managing your physical environment (such as putting snacks out of sight, making healthy foods easily accessible, etc.) that impacts the success of one's dieting endeavors.  What also matters is the cognitive environment - how accessible the rules of the diet are when confronted with eating choices.  Too many rules and variations are likely to catch up with a person who is being confronted with choices, making it easier to give up.  From the article:

Dieting is not all in one's head -- environment matters, too, the professors say. The physical environment has to be set up properly, such as putting snack foods out of sight to avoid mindless eating. But the cognitive environment, they say, must also be appropriately constructed, by choosing diet rules that that one finds easy to remember and follow.

For people interested in following a diet plan, Mata suggests they take a look at several diet plans with an eye toward how many rules the plans have and how many things need to be how many things need to be kept in mind.

"If they decide to go with a more complex diet, which could be more attractive for instance if it allows more flexibility, they should evaluate how difficult they find doing the calculations and monitoring their consumption," she said. "If they find it very difficult, the likelihood that they will prematurely give up the diet is higher and they should try to find a different plan."

One thing I think is making it easier to comply with otherwise more complicated diet plans is the ever-increasing availability of technology.  Tracking calories, rules, etc. is much easier when one has various electronic gadgets that can provide nutritional info, track data (such as what you ate, caloric amounts, etc.), as well as the very rules one is trying to comply with.  The recent improvements in this area have also been seen in tracking exercise data, as GPS technology can easily record pace, distance, and other data.  This used to be far more difficult - I remember driving around in my car, measuring out various running routes with the odometer, and being frustrated that one couldn't measure off-road distances, or take improvised routes without sacrificing your knowledge of distance.  Still, keeping things simple, especially for people without a lot of previous expereince or success, makes sense in both dieting and exercise, as it increases the prospects of compliance over a longer period of time, and would seem far more likely to increase (rather than decrease) one's sense of efficiacy in their fitness efforts.

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