Clues to maintaining calorie restriction? Psychosocial profiles of successful long-term restrictors

Appetite. 2014 Aug;79:106-12. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.04.006. Epub 2014 Apr 18.


To combat the obesity epidemic, interventions and treatments often recommend low-calorie dieting. Calorie restriction (CR) as a weight intervention, however, is often unsuccessful, as most people cannot sustain the behavior. Yet one small group has maintained extreme CR over years - members of the CR Society and followers of The CR Way. This study examined stable psychosocial characteristics of these individuals to identify traits that may promote success at long-term CR. In 65 participants, we measured diet, eating behaviors, and personality traits comparing calorie restrictors with two age-, gender-, ethnicity-, and education-matched comparison groups (normal weight and overweight/obese). We first tested whether the CR group restricted calories without indications of eating disorder pathology, and second, what crystallized psychosocial characteristics set them apart from their nonrestricting comparisons. Results indicated the CR group averaged 10 years of CR but scored lower than comparison groups on measures of disordered eating (p < .001) and psychopathology (p < .001). Particularly against overweight/obese participants, CR participants scored lower on neuroticism (p < .04) and hostility (p < .01), and were stronger in future time orientation (p < .05). Overall, CR profiles reflected high self-control and well being, except for having few close relationships. This study suggests a potential predisposition for successful long-term CR without disordered eating. Since modifying trait factors may be unrealistic, there may be psychosocial boundaries to the capacity for sustaining CR. Paralleling a movement toward personalized medicine, this study points toward a personalized behavioral medicine model in behavioral nutrition and treatment of overweight/obesity.

Keywords: Calorie restriction; Dieting; Eating disorders; Obesity; Personality; Time perspective.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aggression
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Caloric Restriction / psychology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Delay Discounting
  • Diet, Reducing / psychology*
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Energy Intake*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroticism
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Overweight
  • Personality*
  • Reference Values
  • Social Control, Informal*