The effects of resolving to diet on restrained and unrestrained eaters: the "false hope syndrome"

Int J Eat Disord. 1999 Dec;26(4):434-47. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1098-108x(199912)26:4<434::aid-eat9>;2-0.


Objective: The persistence of dieters' weight loss efforts, despite repeated failures, suggests that there must be some interim reinforcement for dieting that sustains the behavior. We propose that self-change efforts capitalize on a "false hope syndrome," in which the initial commitment to change brings immediate rewards (largely improvements in self-image), regardless of the eventual outcome.

Method: Eighty female students chose whether they would attempt either to reduce their weight or to increase their study time over a 2-week period. A control group did not attempt self-change.

Results: The effects of making a resolution to change differed for novice and veteran self-changers (nondieters and chronic dieters). Nondieters showed an immediate improvement in their mood and self-image after making a resolution, but this subjective improvement dissipated over the course of the study. Veteran dieters showed a mixed response, initially feeling both more depressed, yet more hopeful of success.

Discussion: These results are discussed in terms of variations on the false hope syndrome for different kinds of individuals (novices and veterans).

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Body Image
  • Diet, Reducing / psychology*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Self Concept
  • Syndrome
  • Weight Loss*