‘Twas the night before Monday, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a-
– what on Eath is that rustling noise?
Oh, it’s Molly, and she’s trying to scoff the contents of the chocolate drawer before starting her new diet tomorrow. If that story sounds familiar, then you’re in the right place, because today we’re going to talk about the phenomenon known as last supper syndrome.
What’s Going On?
First, I want to reassure you that you’re not alone.
I say that because most people who do this don’t realize it’s an actual thing.
Instead they just beat themselves up and call themselves weak, when that’s not the case at all. Heck, I heard stories like this on a regular basis during my 20+ years working as a trainer in various well-known gyms, and in a recent poll on my Twitter page asking who does this, the results came back with a resounding 94% YES!
So now that you feel better about yourself, let’s look at what the f**k is going on.
Last supper syndrome is spearheaded by the fear of impending change, like a brand new diet where you’re not allowed your favourite foods, or a big lifestyle change which is going to sideline your favourite activities. In retaliation to the prospect of this almighty suck, our brain yells “Hell nawww!” and craves one last night of freedom before the punishment begins. (1, 2)
(That’s right, I brought the science.)
For the most part, I do not have a problem with it.
I mean, if you knew sex was gonna be off the menu for the next three months from tomorrow, what would you do tonight?
But here’s the kicker…
Most people who succumb to this behaviour are continual victims of it, and this is where problems mount up for them.
Because even though the name says last supper syndrome, for most this is a regular thing. They’ll start a new diet, hit the skids, then plan a new attempt beginning next week which leads them to have another “last supper”, and then again, and then again, and so on.
Before you know it, you’re starting a new diet from a position of being 10-20kg heavier than when you first set off, and that’s when it can lead you down a dark path. Research suggests that about half of all people with binge eating disorder will binge right before starting a new diet, so if it’s continually happening to you, this is something we want to get a handle on right now (3)
So let’s do that.
How To Break The Cycle
Every time I’ve had a client who continually experienced this, one issue kept on popping up.
They were doing stupid f**king diets.
The prospect of having no chocolate, or no alcohol, or living on 1000 calories per day for the next month just drained the life out of them, and this is what caused them to panic-binge the night before, and also what caused them to quit a few days in.
Simply put; their diet was just plain wrong for them.
So here’s the thing…
If your diet is filling you with dread, it will not work.
I’d rather you take the time to experiment with what you enjoy, and see what you could be more consistent with, versus staying trapped in an endless cycle of making yourself feel bad.
So the first thing to do is set yourself a smart goal. This is a technique I learned from Doug Hunter, and it’s something I used with all of my personal training clients over the years (and I’m convinced it was a big reason behind why they got such good results, too!).
It stands for:
- S: Specific
- M: Measurable
- A; Achievable
- R: Relevant
- T: Timely
This instantly makes your upcoming quest feel more real, and adds a sense of urgency to the process which has previously been lacking. A 2004 study published in Nursing Science found that the feeling of “taking control” which comes from creating personal accountability is among the most crucial factors in losing weight and keeping it off permanently. (4)
So your target might switch from this:
“Oh, I just wish I could lose some weight and build a bit of muscle.”
“I’ve got 25lbs to lose (specific). Summer starts in three months (timely), and I want to look great on the beach (relevant). So I’m going to lose 2lbs per week (achievable) and I’ll jump on the scales every Friday morning (measurable) to make sure I’m on track.”
Bosh! You no longer have a wish, you have a goal.
And the second thing you’ve gotta do is realize that most of the old dietary advice you’ve been given is total bulls**t.
Man, I still hear people in gyms talking about how carbohydrates are bad for you, or how everything you eat after 6pm will be stored as body fat! Misinformation is everywhere. This forces us back into the old “don’t eat anything nice” approach, which most people hate.
Honestly, it’s a jungle out there, and it’s no surprise that most people feel lost.
I want you to know that we’ve made fantastic advancements in the world of sports nutrition over the last three decades, and the old belief that “if you want to lose weight, you can’t have anything nice” is now yesterday’s advice.
The truth is you don’t need to give anything up.
Having a more flexible approach to your nutrition, one where you learn how to include your favourite foods in your diet in moderation and just focus on the big picture (i.e. hitting your calorie target), generally leads to greater consistency, and this is the key to proper long-term results. Studies also show that it results in fewer cases of anxiety, depression, mood swings, disordered eating patterns, desire to over-eat, and negative body image concerns. (5, 6, 7)
So if you’ve previously been punishing yourself with extreme diets and not getting anywhere, that’s definitely a road to consider going down.
To finish off, we put everything together.
Think about your goal and write it down, then find a workout program you enjoy, use a good nutrition app to track your food (actual food choices don’t matter so much, just hit your calories), and if you have a bad day don’t beat yourself up about it. Just chalk it down to experience and head straight back to work.
- Ogden J., et al. Cognitive changes to preloading in restrained and unrestrained eaters as measured by the Stroop task. Int J Eat Disord (1993).
- Bryan C. J., et al. Harnessing adolescent values to motivate healthier eating. PNAS (2016).
- Binge eating disorder. NEDA (2019).
- Berry D. An emerging model of behavior change in women maintaining weight loss. Nurs Sci Q (2004).
- Spreckley M., et al. Perspectives into the experience of successful, substantial long-term weight-loss maintenance: a systematic review. Int J Qual Stud Health Well-being (2021)..
- Smith C. F., et al. Flexible vs. Rigid dieting strategies: relationship with adverse behavioral outcomes. Appetite (1999).
- Stewart T. M., et al. Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women. Appetite (2002).