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IdeaFestival: Traci Mann On The Trouble With Dieting

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Traci Mann, director and founder of The Eating Lab at the University of Minnesota, has more than 20 years of experience researching why people eat the way they do.

Mann speaks in Louisville on Sept. 30 during IdeaFestival. In an interview with WFPL News, Mann, a psychologist, said she set out to study self-control. That led her to look into eating and dieting.

"Everything we've been told about dieting turns out to be false," Mann said. "And as I started seeing this and seeing what research really showed about dieting, I just became more and more interested in it."

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What are some falsehoods that are out there about dieting?

Traci Mann: I think people believe that if you try hard enough, you can change your body to any size you want. People seem to think anyone can be thin as long as they try hard enough, and that's just not true. There are a lot of genetic determinants of what we can ultimately weigh, and even changing our behavior isn't really going to alter that very much. In addition to that, research shows quite clearly that diets don't lead to long-term weight loss.

You're coming to the state with one of the highest obesity rates in the U.S. What sort of things can Kentuckians do to be healthier?

TM: I'm trying to recommend a middle ground. Not extreme restricting what you eat, but not just going around eating anything at all. The goal is to reach what I'm calling your "leanest livable weight." It's sort of the leanest weight you can be without setting your body into this kind of starvation mode, which makes it impossible to keep weight off.

Now, the way to reach that goal is a lot easier than the way to reach the goal of losing an enormous amount of weight and keeping it off. The way to reach this kind of goal is to make small changes in your every day situation, in your everyday behaviors, which will add up to just a sensible amount of weight loss that can be maintained.

What can people expect to hear from you at IdeaFestival?

I'm planning to talk about why diets don't work and the fact that it's not about willpower, but that it's more about biology. And I hope people will come away from my presentation appreciating that if they lost weight and gained it back, it's not because they're weak. It's not because they don't have enough willpower.

Traci Mann speaks at noon on Sept. 30 during IdeaFestival at the Kentucky Center. Find more information here.