A new study investigating diets and the factors that influence whether people keep to them has been released (1). In a study published in the journal Nutrients, the authors compare a variety of diets in an effort to determine whether people tend to stick to certain types of diets over others and which factors, if any, help or hinder them in doing so. In particular, they examine the potential impact of personality, mental health, and motivations for dietary choices.
The authors included five types of diets in their study—vegan, vegetarian, paleo, gluten-free, and weight loss. They selected a group of 292 participants already following one of these diets and asked them about what helps them maintain a diet and occasions when they struggled to do so. The participants were then also given questionnaires about their demographics, personalities, mental health, dietary motivations, and adherence to their diets.
Ultimately, vegans and vegetarians, respectively, were found to be the most likely to stick to their diets, with those following paleo, gluten-free, and weight loss diets more likely to stray. Veg*ns also reported having less trouble in keeping to their dietary choices and were more likely to view their diets as self-expression rather than a task requiring restriction or willpower.
Perhaps surprisingly, from a number of factors that included depression and disordered eating, self-control, age, gender, ethnicity and many more, only four were found to have a significant impact in the final analysis. Self-efficacy and social identification with one’s dietary group (which were positive predictors of adherence), and mood and weight control (which were negative predictors). In other words, people who saw their diet as an important and positive part of their identity and were confident in their ability to stick with it were more likely to remain on that diet, while those motivated by a desire to lose weight (notably, as contrasted with a desire to become healthier) and those who eat for emotional reasons were less likely to remain on their diets.
While some considerations, such as the number and diversity of its participants, limit the potential inferences and applications of this exploratory study, it does have a number of interesting implications. For example, the authors suggest that the importance of motivations of dietary choices for the adherence to diets is currently under-appreciated, and that thinking of diets in individualistic terms, rather than conceptualizing them as part of a broader context, contribute to straying from them. Above all, though, it points to the potential of people “find[ing] positive ways to self-define in terms of their dietary patterns” to make a change for good.
1. Cruwys T, Norwood R, Chachay VS, Ntontis E, Sheffield J. “An Important Part of Who I am”: The Predictors of Dietary Adherence among Weight-Loss, Vegetarian, Vegan, Paleo, and Gluten-Free Dietary Groups. Nutrients. 2020 Apr 1;12(4).