The effects of dieting as usual on weight change and bulimic pathology: experimental evidence
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Concerns that dieting increases the risk for bulimia nervosa have prompted criticism of this practice; however, recent experimental studies suggest that dieting results in weight loss and decreased bulimic symptoms. Because the dieting manipulated in these experiments may be unrepresentative of real-world weight-loss dieting, 122 intermittent dieters were randomized to either diet as they usually do for weight loss or eat as they do when not dieting for four weeks to provide a more ecologically valid experimental test of these effects. Results indicated that individuals in the diet as usual condition slowed the weight gain trajectory shown by non-dieting participants, but did not result in significant weight loss. These findings imply that most dieters may simply be curbing a general tendency to overeat when attempting to diet, and that dieters may be eating less than they desire rather than reducing their intake sufficiently to produce a negative energy balance. Although there was no significant main effect of the dieting manipulation on change in bulimic symptoms, dieting as usual significantly decreased bulimic symptoms for participants reporting low depressive symptoms. Results suggest that self-initiated weight loss dieters are relatively ineffective at achieving sustained reductions in caloric intake, and may help explain several discrepancies in the literature. These findings do not provide any evidence for the hypothesis that dieting contributes to increased risk for bulimic symptoms, and instead indicate that we should seek to assist individuals in effective and healthy means of weight control, and identify depressive symptoms that may interfere with successful dietary control.