Why “Last Supper Syndrome” Is Killing Your Diet
‘Twas the night before Kate started her new diet.
Everything in the house lay still.
New protein shaker on the table. New gym outfit in the wardrobe.
Kate was all set to finally lose weight this time.
But trouble was a-brewing.
Kate had decided that, seeing as she was going to be good from tomorrow, she should have one last blowout before getting on the healthy train. One last night where anything goes.
It’s only right and proper.
She orders a pizza…. Follows it up with some alcohol… Then has a date with both Ben & Jerry…
Doesn’t matter. She’s gonna be brilliant from tomorrow.
Suddenly, it’s 11:30pm and Kate is stalking her kitchen looking for any remnants of junk food that she can throw down the hatch before going cold turkey.
Then she remembers her flatmate’s got a family sized bar of Galaxy Caramel in the back of the kitchen drawer.
You know, in her “secret place”.
So she f**king smashes it.
After all, can’t start a new diet if that’s still there!
If this all sounds familiar, please hear my comforting words – you are not alone.
Loads of people fall into the trap of having “one last blowout” the day before starting a new diet. But listen, it’s setting you up for failure before you have even begun. It’s a common behaviour among people who have a history of struggling with weight loss issues, and it’s a bad habit I want you to move away from as you build your best body.
So today I’m going to show you why it doesn’t f**king work.
Why Do We Have One Last Blowout?
You felt like a freak because you thought it was only you who did this?
It happens all the time.
Like I said, you are not alone.
It actually has a name; Last Supper Syndrome.
Basically, the though of eating nothing but “clean food” scares the living s**t out of us and pushes us to gorge on everything we find enjoyable.
So we eat, and we eat, and we eat, and then we feel depressed because we ate, and we ate, and we ate.
And we start our new diet as if it’s a prison sentence
Last supper syndrome is created by years of viewing diets as a type of punishment.
We know we shouldn’t view them this way…
We know we should look at it as the chance to finally build that body we’ve been dreaming of. We know we should be bright-eyed and bushy tailed, talking about the wonders of kale, like one of those gloriously fake-a** Pinterest models who’s forever smiling at salads and making you want to punch them full force in the face.
But most of us just can’t help it.
We’ve been programmed to view a diet with an impending sense of doom, and our natural response to the prospect of trying to lose weight is to go wild.
It’s like a hen party for your taste buds.
One last night of freedom, before they are locked in an lifetime of monotony.
Research actually shows that it makes us feel rebellious to break the rules of a diet, so it makes sense that this scary deadline causes us to react like Chuck Norris riding a bull through a china shop. (1)
But if it really was a hen party, and if you looked at your upcoming marriage the same way as you’re looking at that new diet, you’d probably re-evaluate your decision to say yes. Wouldn’t you?
An impending sense of doom?
A lifetime of monotony?
But for some reason it’s acceptable to hate your diet, and to feel like you must punish yourself for wanting to lose weight.
Why Last Supper Syndrome Doesn’t Work
If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you need to do two things.
- Enjoy the foods you eat.
- Learn about proper nutrition to support your activities.
Binge eating coupled with restrictive dieting does neither of those things, and sets you up for failure.
Which is exactly why most people who succumb to last supper syndrome never get into the kind of shape they’re aiming for (despite always seeming to be on a diet), because they get stuck in this constant cycle below:
- Feel unhappy and scared at the thought of not eating the foods they like.
- Hang on as long as they can.
- Binge eat.
- Feel temporarily satisfied because they’ve quenched their urge and allowed themselves to switch off and relax.
- Regret everything they ate. And every choice they ever made. Ever.
- Feel bad about themselves.
- Tell themselves they’re useless, and wonder why everyone else can do it but them.
- Beat themselves up some more.
- Make a plan to diet even harder the next time.
- Go back to step 1.
What Can We Do To Prevent Last Supper Syndrome?
Let’s look at some research.
One study from the US showed that women who lost an average of 52lbs and kept if off shared a few of the same behavioural changes – most notably, the feeling of “taking control of their own lives”. (2)
Which means stopping letting other people’s general douche-y-ness make you feel bad about yourself.
This is interesting, because quite a lot of diets are started as a result of someone making us angry as opposed to us simply deciding we’d like to lose some weight.
For many people, “Right, that’s it! From Monday there’ll be no more <insert food here>!!!” comes as a response to someone who has ruined your day by making a nasty joke about your clothing or making you feel self-conscious about your body shape. So we decide to overhaul everything and prove them f**kers wrong.
But starting a weight loss plan just to prove someone wrong (or win their approval) rarely leads to success.
Dieting is a long-haul game and you are by yourself most of the time, so it needs to be something for you. Because you want to do it.
Screw those a**holes.
Following on from what I was saying above, a team of psychiatrists from Stanford University noted that envisioning a future where our favourite foods are taken away from us (like a new crash diet) causes us to go into a binge eating frenzy.
Sarah Flower, author of The Healthy Lifestyle Diet Cookbook, makes some great points on this:
“People liken the fun and relaxation of weekends to unhealthy eating. In reality, the two aren’t connected.”
Dr. John Briffa, author of Escape The Diet Trap, sums it up brilliantly:
“They equate their working week with dieting and deprivation, and feel compelled to overeat every weekend, which suggests that what they eat most of the time doesn’t satisfy them. But healthy eating should be making you feel better, not be your penance.”
Advertisers know this too, of course.
Which is why we get products such as beer, pizza, and chocolate bars marketed in ways that suggest it’s time to reward yourself, or time to kick back and relax.
Maybe you’re one of the eagle-eyed readers who noticed my little “she had a date with both Ben & Jerry” reference in the opening segment of this page?
I wasn’t talking s**t.
I compared ice cream to sex.
And now you want ice cream.
Don’t even get me started on having a fling with a Creme Egg, the phrase Food Porn, or the orgasm-inducing capabilities of a Flake.
So, as you can see, there are certain decisions and connections we make which pretty much set us up for failure from the outset, and a lot of people don’t even realize that they’re doing it.
Instead they beat themselves up for not being strong-willed enough.
By falsely associating junk food with the relaxation and happiness of the weekend (and associating diet with the hard work and effort of the working week) we fool ourselves into derailing on a regular basis.
And every time the going gets tough, we go running to those same old junk foods as if they’re our best friend.
But they’re not our friend… are they?
They’re literally the thing that put you in this position which made you want to lose weight in the first place.
Don’t go running to those same habits.
It’s time to form new ones.
If you are unhappy about the way you look, and it has begun playing a major role in your everyday life (i.e. being sad when you walk past a mirror, stressing about clothes clinging to the wrong places, beating yourself up every single day and wishing for nothing more than just to lose some God damn weight), then it is definitely not OK to keep running back to square one.
This style of dieting takes people down a dark path of self-consciousness, causing them to binge eat at every attempt in a poorly constructed (and well intentioned) attempt to make themselves feel better.
This leads to something you may have heard me reference before; the sunshine effect.
For instance, justifying eating lots of junk food today by saying we’re going to get on top of things tomorrow, even though we secretly know we’re not gonna do Jack s**t.
Before you know it, you’ve been binge eating and dieting for a few days at a time over and over again, it’s been a year, and you are even further away from your goals than when you started.
But it’s OK, because tomorrow…
(That’s the sunshine effect.)
How To Get Past Last Supper Syndrome And Finally Lose Weight
If you recognize yourself in today’s article, you’re probably wondering a couple of things.
- I’m glad it’s not just me who does this.
- How the heck am I going to stop doing it in the future?
If we are going to succeed, we need to create a healthy relationship with food.
This means easing yourself into a new diet – no last minute binge the night before, and no crazy restrictive eating plan which only leads to failure.
My clients use something I call The 80/20 Rule, whereby if 80% of their calories are arriving by healthy, nutritionally dense foods then there is no harm in the other 20% coming from treats along the way.
Moderation is the key to a healthy relationship with food, because the best diet is the one you can stick to.
So try to build your diet around the foods you actually enjoy eating. Make sure you are including your favourite treats along the way (never, ever cut them out completely) and try to avoid boredom by incorporating variety into your daily foods as much as you can.
Because despite how common it is to see people partaking in crazy fad diets, it has long been established that a more flexible approach to dieting leads to greater, more sustainable results.
This dates all the way back to a 2002 study published in Appetite, where researchers looked at the effects of both a rigid diet and a flexible diet on 188 female participants, and concluded that those who followed a rigid meal plan experienced frequent cases of eating disorder symptoms (such as mood swings and excessive body image/shape issues) whereas those who followed a more flexible approach did not. (3)
There is plenty of room in your diet for all of your favourite foods.
After all, as long as you control your total calories and get enough protein to support lean muscle growth through your efforts in the gym, you can really change things up with your approach to fat and carbohydrates and still see great results with whichever style of eating best suits you. (4, 5, 6)
And remember, starting your diet by binge eating the night before is like asking Sylvester Stallone to stop making Rocky movies.
Not. Gonna. Happen.
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- Ogden, J., et al. Cognitive changes to preloading in restrained and unrestrained eaters as measured by the Stroop task. Int J Eat Disord. 1993 Sep;14(2):185-95.
- Berry, D. An emerging model of behavior change in women maintaining weight loss. Nurs Sci Q. 2004 Jul;17(3):242-52.
- Stewart, T. M., et al. Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women. Appetite. 2002 Feb;38(1):39-44.
- Leibel, R.L., et al. Energy intake required to maintain body weight is not affected by wide variation in diet composition . Am J Clin Nutr. (1992)
- Raatz, S. K., et al. Reduced Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Diets Do Not Increase the Effects of Energy Restriction on Weight Loss and Insulin Sensitivity in Obese Men and Women. J Nut. (2005)
- Johnston, C. S., et al. Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 May;83(5):1055-61.