FEBRUARY 15, 2005

New British diet claims shaking up your life can
melt away pounds

Author believes a connection lies between stale routines
and unconscious eating

Imagine an effective weight-loss plan that involves no dieting, exercising, calorie-counting, or meal plans. It sounds too good to be true, but that's precisely what a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire claims to have devised, the British Psychological Society announced in a September press release.

In what is being billed as the first 'no-diet diet,' patients are encouraged to act unlike themselves, shake up their routine and when they're no longer living their lives on autopilot, it's hoped they will then think before they eat. The plan is the brainchild of Professor Ben Fletcher, Head of School of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. So far, a study with 55 participants was conducted. The findings were promising: the subjects lost an average of 5 kg over a four-week period, and not only did they keep the weight off, but in some cases, they kept on losing. Some participants shed over 18 kgs by the time the study hit the one-year mark.

The study, based on what Dr Fletcher calls his FIT (Framework for Internal Transformation) habit-breaking science, required participants to step out of their comfort zones by trying something different each day, and breaking their usual habits. Dr Fletcher is declining media interviews while he prepares to publish his results in a book and none of the information released by the University of Hertfordshire explains what controls were used in the study.

Dr Fletcher did, however, grant an interview to British psychiatrist and Daily Telegraph reporter Dr Raj Persaud which sheds some light on the trial methods. Dr Persaud reported that participants were asked to choose a different daily option from 15 pairs of contrasting behaviours to try out. This included choosing between reactive/proactive or introverted/extroverted behaviours.

Participants had to try out new behaviours in their relationships without telling their partners and, twice a week, were required to complete an out of the ordinary activity, such as listening to a new radio station or reading a different magazine.

Dr Gwen Chapman, registered dietician and Associate Professor of Food and Nutrition at the University of British Columbia, says Dr Fletcher's approach is worth looking into. "It's kind of an intriguing idea," she says. "Maybe some of the factors they're working on are easier to intervene on than food choice, because they may be in some ways less complex." She adds, "they're getting out of character, so they may get out of character in other aspects of their lives, too."

Dr Chapman stresses that much more goes into people's food choices than health or weight concerns. Other factors include convenience, taste, cost and social considerations. "In people who have problems with losing weight, there may be some combination of genetic, metabolic factors combined with personal habits, life history and the environment they live in," she says.

Dr Christine Courbasson, food addiction expert and Associate Professor at the University of Toronto's Department of Psychiatry, adds that most overeating has an emotional component to it. Any weight loss plan, she feels, has to take this into consideration.

"Many people begin to gain weight with emotional eating. When they have strong emotions they try and push the emotions away by eating, instead of saying how they feel," she says. Shaking up one's routine might help to break the behavioural associations between food and emotion, she adds, but "doing more than just acting differently would probably be best."

Dr Chapman remains sceptical of the 'no-diet diet.' "People have to understand why they overeat. Just acting differently might not necessarily solve the problem, because we don't know why they are overeating," she says. "I don't think there's ever going to be a magic silver bullet for helping people to lose weight in a way that they can sustain. A trial of 55 people is a pretty small trial. A two-year follow-up would more tell the tale."



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