Are These Diets Really Making Women 'Tipsy'?

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), April 7, 1996 | Go to article overview

Are These Diets Really Making Women 'Tipsy'?


Byline: CAROLINE HENDRIE

WOMAN on a diet loses as much concentration as she would by knocking back a double gin, psychologists have discovered after a three-year study.

On one level, this conclusion by a team at the Government-backed Institute of Food Research is simply an intriguing but limited finding from well-meaning academics with no axe to grind.

But what a gift their results could be for the male chauvinists, always on the look-out for statistics they can twist to `prove' women are inferior.

To say that calorie counting can make women go a bit dizzy could reinforce prejudices which are particularly damaging at work - especially as it is known that 60 per cent of women are on some form of diet at any one time.

It has a particular implication in the office because this `lack of concentration' caused by dieting appears to happen only when the alternative thought to food is work.

Faced with a more pleasurable activity, like sex, for example, a woman would immediately focus her attention once more.

That's the theory anyway.

TAKE it out of context and you can see what the

chauvinists might argue: Women have butterfly minds, so don't give them long-term or complex projects, don't put them in charge of people and don't promote them.

And that would be a pity since the research programme was undertaken as a serious study to find out more about the psychological aspects of dieting.

The research team, based in Reading, Berkshire, analysed 250 women in their early twenties and thirties who were given a series of tests to assess how distracting diets were.

In one test the women were given computer exercises to test their ability to sustain attention, ignore distraction and measure memory capacity and reaction speed.

The results are interesting because they show it was not the actual deprivation of food or any biological or chemical reasons which made the women lose concentration. It was all in the mind.

Psychologist Dr Michael Green, in charge of the project, reports: `What we find is that women who say they are dieting when we test them actually fare a lot more poorly on measures of mental performance than women not trying to lose weight.

`They performed as poorly as people would be expected to who had consumed two units of alcohol - equivalent to a double gin.

`The great difference is that with alcohol there is a chemical effect on the brain which causes slower reactions. Unlike people who have consumed alcohol, dieters are experiencing something far more under conscious control and are capable of paying as much attention as necessary when something more important arises.'

To test whether lightheadedness was a characteristic of dieters rather than the effects of being on a diet, he tested the same group of women twice, once when they were dieting and once when they were eating normally. …

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