Does Dieting Make You Angry And Stressed?

By Mel Thomassian (RD)


The idea of reaching for a stick of celery when all you really want is a big slice of chocolate cake, would probably make most people a little grumpy.

And, according to results published in the Journal of Consumer Research, exerting self-control while dieting can in fact make people feel angry and irritable.

Research has shown that exerting self-control makes people more likely to behave aggressively toward others, and people on diets are known to be irritable and quick to anger. Source

The researchers set up four experiments to compare the attitudes of volunteers who were on a diet, with those who ate what they wanted. They found that:

  • Participants who choose an apple over a bar of chocolate were more likely to choose movies which had angry, revenge-filled plots.
  • Those who choose a gift certificate for groceries rather than one for a spa service, showed more interest in looking at angry faces as opposed to more fearful ones.
  • And, in an other experiment, people who chose a healthy snack instead of a less healthy one were more irritated by a public service advert promoting exercise.

Interestingly, the researchers have linked these feelings of irritation, stress, and anger to the act of exerting self-control while dieting, rather than the “dieting” itself.

The researchers point out that public policy makers should be more aware of the potential negative emotions, which can result when the public are encouraged to exert more self control over their daily choices.

What about you — does being on a diet make you feel more irritated or angry? How do you make healthy food choices without feeling like you’re denying yourself?

Image source: Kreutziana


  1. teacher4life2010

    No, but that’s probably because I use the R&D Diet Cookies to snack on and they are so filling that I am never hungry or craving.

  2. d-girl

    I agree with almost all of the comments that, highly-restricvtive diets will make you agitated and unhappy, as its stated in the article, not because of the diet itself but of the exertion of self-control we have to put ourselves through… It might be too cliché but I do believe that we can avoid these feelings and any type of discouragement by “life style changes” rather than quick solutions or crash diets…

  3. Susan

    Yes – dieting makes me very irritable! The more I restrict my calories, the more irritable I get. Then again, if I didn’t restrict my calories I’d still be in a bad mood, but more as a result of being disappointed with the inevitable weight gain that would follow…

  4. Jamie

    Of course it doesn’t! What a stupid theory.


    *eats rice cake*

  5. Nodaa

    Actually, dieting is always make me GREAT person. I feel happy and relaxed. What makes me anger & stressed is when i overeat or eating unhealthy food and not exercising.

    Some people do eat very low calorie diet less than 600 calories for more than 2 weeks which is not good. This way leads to anger and stress. I think it depends on the type of diet, time and its food.

  6. Leona Murray

    I agree that being on a diet does make you crabby and irritable especially in the company of others who are eating all the stuff you may crave. I have had the problem of weight control since puberty and the need for controlling my intake has been with me. Now I generally eat as healthy a diet as I can manage but I do allow myself the occasional treat without feeling guilty or stressed about it. Additionally I ensure that I get regular exercise at least three times per week. I look at it not as “being on a diet” but as a necessary change in lifestyle to ensure good health.

  7. Dr Tom Halton

    I think it all depends on the diet. If you are on a low fat, high carb diet you will be hungry and irritable for sure. If you are following a more low glycemic approach (like the diet I recommend to my weight loss clients), I have found only a positive impact on mood and emotion.

    It all has to do with blood sugar swings. When you have them, you feel off, when you don’t you feel great!

    Thanks for the interesting post.
    Dr. Tom Halton

  8. Dan

    We agree that exercise with calorie control is important. If you were needing to lose weight and you were already eating only 1500 calories a day, then you could only safely cut 300 calories from your diet- in that case you had better increase your exercise level. The calorie level I consume comes from counting my calories and seeing what calorie level maintained my weight given my activity level of bicycling at least an hour everyday. I ride my bike to and from work and everywhere else, weather permitting. I ride a stationaty bike on rainy days for about 70 minutes. I never skip days of exercise. When I was obese, I would skip quite a few. I also have a stand up job. I was finding that I had to increase my distsnce quite often to maintain my weight. I then decided to temper my intake down to 3200 from 3500 calories. This got my weight down. We have to find a calorie intake control/exercise balance we are comfortable with. It is difficult to rely solely on one or the other.

  9. bijou

    I can definitely appreciate the fact that a person’s age, gender, body composition, lifestyle, and starting level of physical fitness can profoundly affect their response to caloric restriction and/or exercise. I agree that exercise is essential and that it gives one more leeway to eat more. Ideally, a combination of exercise and caloric control should be used in any weight loss/maintenance regimen. However, and to further illustrate that there are different scenarios, I offer my personal experience: I’m in my late 20s, female, short and small-framed, formerly overweight but now in the low end of normal, and I work a full-time desk job. I exercise 3 times a week with a combination of resistance/strength training and fairly vigorous cardio. I also have a 2-mile roundtrip walk to work and a 6-flight stair climb to my walkup apartment. I find that I cannot exceed a 1500-calorie total daily intake if I want to maintain my current weight, even considering my exercise. This might simply mean I’m at my rockbottom weight to maintain any measure of health. Regarding my means of maintenance: if given the choice between forgoing a snack and logging another hour in the gym on any given day, I will forgo the snack.

  10. Dan

    Maybe there are different scenarios. Some people just simply eat like pigs and that is why they are overweight. Just cutting calories could do them a lot of good. Some people, on the other hand, are getting up in the years (I am 50) and therefore their metabolism has slowed down and much of their weight problem is due to a slowing metabolism caused by a loss of muscle mass. They often find that they gain weight very easily. Just cutting calories in this case really doens’t do that much good, because it just exacerbates the slowing metabolism and does absolutely nothing by itself to preserve muscle mass. Exercise is the only thing that can raise a person’s metabolism as well as build muscle mass, no diet can. Therefore, a lot of exercise, or as much as a person can do, can do a world of good for someone with a slowing metabolism. This exercise does not enable most people to eat like pigs and still lose weight, but it does spare them from having to eat like a bird to lose weight. I remind you, some people, like Michael Phelps, can eat quite a few more calories than I can. Anyone who exercises can lose weight on a higher calorie intake level than they could if they weren’t exercising, even if they can’t eat as much as I can.

  11. Dan

    I tried dieting without much exercise for a long time and found that the amount of food I could eat was so little that it was very unsatisfying and I hardly lost any weight doing it this way- it seemed like I practically had to go on a crash diet to lose weight. It is much easier just to find out how many calories it takes to maintain one’s weight and then of course track one’s food to stay at that same calorie level and get a calorie deficit from one’s exercise. Often when a person tries to lose weight without exercise they find they have to cut a lot more than just the 350 calorie candy bar- many people who don’t exercise have to eat only 1000 calories to lose weight- what can you eat on that level of calories? How nutritionally complete can one’s diet be on that level of calories? Wouldn’t this calorie level make many people irritable and angry? Why not just keep the calorie intake the same (or not cut them as severely) and just exercise a bit more? Even if a person burns an extra 300 calories a day by walking a little over 3 miles each and every day, they could lose a pound in 11 or 12 days. I think dieting alone has got too good of a reputation, because if someone has a slow metabolism, they may not have that many calories they can cut to lose weight and just cutting their calories further slows down their metabolism. Of course, not everyone can eat 3100 calories a day and still lose weight, but daily exercise does enable a person to lose weight on a calorie level that is more sustainable and easier to live with. Calorie control IS important, but just not increasing one’s calories in response to more activity, not in practically starving oneself.

  12. bijou

    1) exercise is crucial for weight loss and maintenance, but as it is much easier to limit the number of calories one consumes than to burn off all excess calories, total caloric intake trumps exercise in the weight loss/maintenance equation. for example, it is much easier to simply avoid consuming a 350-calorie candy bar than to burn it off with exercise.

    2) you sound like a serious athlete if 3100 calories a day is a “diet” for you. most people do not have as much time to devote to strenuous exercise and thus exercise simply to get some movement into their lives, assuming they exercise at all. thus, most people do not need nearly as many calories and must restrict their intake to stay within their caloric needs.

  13. Dan

    I may sound like a broken record. Regular, consistent, rigorous exercise enables a person to lose weight without going on a highly restrictive diet which deprives the body of nutrients it needs, which then causes the anger and irritation. Some calorie control is necessary for weight loss, but this mainly consists of not increasing the number of calories a person eats when they increase their exercise, rather than the great decrease of calories that would be necessary if the person didn’t exercise at all. If I start to gain weight, I keep exercising but go on a 3100 or 3200 calorie “diet” and then I get my weight back down. I bicycle every single day for at least an hour. Probably the examples of persons not losing weight while running marathons are persons who don’t keep from increasing their calorie intake in response to the increased exercise. Surely they could lose weight without going on a severe diet- just moderate their food intake a bit.

  14. Albert123

    A diet that is too restrictive can make a person feel irritated and hungry all the time. Depriving yourself from the essential nutrients can have adverse effects on your body and mind.

  15. Valeria

    This is particularly problematic when you’re on a diet that focuses on denial and portion restriction rather than eating the right foods and complementing that with the correct exercise. I’m currently on a diet where I eat more protein for breakfast and less carbs as the day goes on – I’m actually less hungry and crabby than before!

    Cheat days also help – particularly if you’re on something as restrictive as the paleo diet.

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    I think Dieting Is Good think BUT healthy diet Plan Is Most Important with This!

  17. Spectra

    I watch what I eat pretty religiously and I eat great stuff most of the time. However, I’d go nuts without an occasional treat. So I budget in a couple hundred calories for treats so I don’t go completely nuts.

  18. bijou

    Yes. And I’m always on a restrictive diet, meaning I always exercise judgment when it comes to what and how much I eat. Many times, that means enduring the rumbling stomach or watching people around me chow down on greasy fare while I sip my water. Not to say that I necessarily want to eat the same food, but the act of self-restraint definitely affects my mood negatively. Oh well. I guess there’s a reason for the stereotype of the jolly rotund person.

  19. MichaelD

    Only if I am on a low fat/high carb calorie restrictive diet. Then I’m angry, pissed off, and continuously hungry and irritable. Since I began eating a lower carb diet, I don’t suffer the same symptoms, can remain pleasant without any of these nasty side effects. It’s easier to control my eating, I seem to eat less without real suffering. I also have less cravings. In addition, when I screw up and give in to temptation, it’s much easier to get back on track.