And Now We Have Proof: Diets Are Screwing Up Our Eating Patterns All Over The World

Jezebel and NPR reported something interesting yesterday about the eating patterns of dieters. As the day progresses, dieters’ food choices get less and less “healthy.”

This information is based on a review of 500,000 meals that were recorded in 50 countries by the users of the app Eatery, a dieting app which requires users to rate their meals by their healthiness. Of course, this is not a scientific study, but the sheer vastness of the data is still interesting.

Seriously. (Image courtesy of someecards)

The data show that as the day progresses, people choose less and less healthy food and tend to snack on unhealthy food at night. (Of course, we have no idea what people are considering healthy or unhealthy, but I’ll leave that alone for now.)

What’s interesting to me is not just this pattern, but the conclusions that the writers at NPR and Jezebel made. Both made the argument that we need more willpower. Ted Burnham at NPR wrote, “So summon your willpower, skip the midnight snack, and go to sleep already! Your waistline may thank you in the morning.”

Wow, Ted, why didn’t all of these people think of that?! Genius! (*headdesk*)

Cassie Murdoch at Jezebel also made a comment about willpower, but seemed to have a little more understanding of the issue by writing, “Or it could be that the foods we turn to later in the evening aren’t as healthy by nature – dessert, chips – than what we’d turn to for breakfast. In any event, next time you’re indulging in a little midnight decadence, at least you know you’re not alone.”

Self reported healthy eating map (image courtesy of Massive Health – which sounds sort of HAES-y, if you ask me)

The strange thing is that both of these writers took this behavior to be just human behavior, without considering the fact that this is a self-selected group of dieters using an app to track what they eat. In other words, this isn’t everyone. Dieters often start the day with fresh resolve to “eat really healthily” and as the day progresses, they get hungry. They feel deprived. And once the day is done and no one is around to talk about dieting or see what they’re eating, they grab what they can.

This pattern is not a healthy relationship to food, or even a “normal” relationship to food. This is a pattern created by the rules of dieting and the lies we tell ourselves when we do it.

5 replies on “And Now We Have Proof: Diets Are Screwing Up Our Eating Patterns All Over The World”

I wonder if a lot of people use those deals the way I did when I was experimentally monitoring my eating (sort of dieting, but not really–just kind of seeing how many calories per day I was eating, for info-gathering, but of course it’s hard to monitor without also changing your habits). I would front-load my healthy choices, like lots of protein and water because, hey, what it something weird happens in the PM and I don’t eat chicken like I think I should? Better eat eggs now! So I’d do that and then usually I would end up doing pretty well–by the evening, I’d be like, “this thing says I have 700 calories left I can eat! I can have anything I want for dinner!” and I would do that, or add a dessert, or whatever. So in the context of my “plan,” I was still totally on track, but yeah the less healthful things came in the PM.

Also, as noted, the “unhealthy” options in the PM are greater than in the AM. You CAN have hollandaise sauce with breakfast every day, but most people don’t get that fancy before work. After work there’s alcohol and french fries on menus and at events. I was going to say I can’t imagine eating the less “healthy” meal first, but I could see someone eating like, donuts for breakfast and then lean chicken and kale at dinner. Sure. That’s possible. Less likely, I’d suggest.

I was thinking the same thing as your first point. If you’re counting calories and you are really “healthy”/low cal in the morning, you’ll have more room for “less healthy”/higher cal foods in the evening.

Also, if someone has done really well with their diet for the day, maybe they feel like they can reward themselves with something “unhealthy” at night.

I was talking to my friend about this just today. Now, she is something of a dieter, but she’s also really into learning about nutrition as a whole, so usually when she’s dieting, she’s sort of doing it more to experiment with it to see if it’s any healthier than her already existing plan. She’s a big advocate of just eating right and keeping delicious, delicious food in your diet. For example, she believe that butter is great! It’s delicious and in moderation, can make food taste just a heck of a lot better. As she says, you’ll feel way more satisfied with what you eat if you allow yourself a small amount of tasty butter on your food than you will if you just crunch on carrots all day.

This reminds me of an article I read yesterday or the day before in the Atlantic about behavorism and how all these apps that help you control and monitor your behavior are a call back to Skinner. Overall I found it an interesting article but what disturbed me was how pretty much all the examples were dieting ones and the author sort of went, well we know being healthy means changing all your habits and look at what my brother who was fat and unhealthy did. It left me uncomfortable even though I found the psychological ideas interesting, it was just the use of really going see, all you people who complain you need help to keep up, use other people to control and shame you and just the way he wrote about dieting. There was sort of a line or two about being healthy and all but it was uncomfortable. This made me think of it again.

<a href=””>Here’s</a> the link and even the title about the Perfected self makes me go don’t like your phrasing.

Edited as I didn’t double check my clipboard and accidentally linked to an image of Locutus of Borg which is not connected.

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