The Skill of Flexible Restraint

Key to successful weight loss is an eating plan that provides structure without overly tight restrictions.
The Skill of Flexible Restraint

Obesity researchers have developed a number of tools that help them assess eating patterns of behaviour and the impact those patterns of behaviour have on weight loss efforts.1 Two areas of behaviour that are of keen interest are dietary restraint and dietary disinhibition.

Dietary Restraint
Dietary restraint is a term that describes how tightly food intake is controlled in an effort to manage weight. Highly restrained eaters tend to be very precise about how much they eat. For example, a highly restrained eater may follow a 1,200-calorie diet by limiting themselves every day to a regime that includes exactly 200 calories at breakfast, 300 calories at lunch and 700 calories at dinner. They would not allow themselves any snacks nor would they vary their intake from day to day.

People with high levels of dietary restraint are likely to add up the calories in every bite, read every label and talk a lot about how they watch what they are eating. Interestingly, very high levels of dietary restraint are not associated with successful weight management and may lead to abnormal eating patterns.2 People with high levels of dietary restraint are also prone to 'on again/off again' weight loss practises.

Dietary Disinhibition
Dietary disinhibition is a term that describes the lack of control over eating. A person with high levels of disinhibition will have frequent episodes of overeating, is likely to eat rapidly, have more symptoms of disordered eating and higher ratings of perceived hunger.3 Not surprisingly, high levels of dietary disinhibition are associated with weight gain4 and obesity.

The Right Balance
Flexible restraint means putting a moderate level of control on eating to achieve lasting weight loss. An eating plan that incorporates the concept of flexible restraint provides enough structure to limit food intake to encourage weight loss while avoiding fostering the feelings of deprivation and tight restrictions. Learning and practising the skill of flexible restraint is a recommended strategy for lasting weight loss.5

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The Weight Watchers Approach:

Learning about and changing eating patterns of behaviour in a way that supports sustainable weight loss is an integral part of the Weight Watchers food approach. The ProPoints® budget, encourages use of the skill of flexible restraint by allowing for 'treats' in a structured way that does not derail the weight loss process.


1Bellisle F. Why should we study human food intake behaviour? Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2003 Aug;13(4):189-93.

2Rogers PJ. Eating habits and appetite control: a psychobiological perspective. Proc Nutr Soc. 1999 Feb;58(1):59-67.

3Smith CF, Geiselman PJ, Williamson DA, Champagne CM, Bray GA, Ryan DH. Association of dietary restraint and disinhibition with eating behaviour, body mass, and hunger. Eat Weight Disord. 1998 Mar;3(1):7-15.

4Provencher V, Drapeau V, Tremblay A, Despres JP, Bouchard C, Lemieux S; Quebec Family Study. Eating behaviours, dietary profile and body composition according to dieting history in men and women of the Quebec Family Study. Br J Nutr. 2004 Jun;91(6):997-1004.

5Westenhoefer J. The therapeutic challenge: behavioural changes for long-term weight maintenance. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2001 May;25 Suppl 1:S85-8.