Why Your Diet Fails

A friend's drunken offer to chow down at Taco Bell? Irresistible.

Feb 25, 2014
Outside Magazine

Strawberries—they help your cholesterol.    Getty Images/iStockphoto

We've all been there. After a week of stringently healthy living—rising at the crack of dawn to jog and avoiding greasy temptations—you're out with your best friends on a Friday night. A couple beers and a couple hours later, you find yourself wolfing down chalupas—or, maybe, breakfast food—at Taco Bell. The greasy mystery meat hits your stomach. You never stood a chance.

If it makes you feel any better, dietary lapses hardly indicate personal shortcomings, according to a new study published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine. In fact, when scientists tempted dieters to indulge—in what might be one of the more irritating experiments on record—participants lapsed more than half of the time. Human willpower is no match for the presence of friends, late-night cravings, or alcoholic temptations, the researchers found.

Participants tracked their dietary temptations using a mobile phone app that helped the scientists create an "ecological momentary assessment" of urges and lapses. They found that people are more vulnerable to lapses at night and that stronger temptations increase the likelihood of giving in. But participants in the study also said the mobile app made them more aware of their struggles, so the study suggests that dieters could use similar apps in the future to bolster their self-confidence.

If you think a mobile app to help you diet sounds hokey, there's also some good old-fashioned evidence supporting healthy diets that might sway you. A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association not only linked vegetarian diets to lower blood pressure, but also found that a transition to vegetarianism can correct high blood pressure. However, researchers say they'll need more research to determine which aspects of vegetarianism help blood pressure most.

Think twice about dessert, too. Instead of that fried Twinkie, opt for a big bowl of strawberries—findings published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry determined that the fruit lowers cholesterol. But prepare to pig out, because each participant in the study ate more than a pound a day of the tasty fruit.