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"Last Supper" Syndrome--Eating Before Food is Forbidden: A Dieter's Cycle of Bingeing and Dieting

You plan to start the diet tomorrow. That means today you better eat all those foods that are going to be forbidden forever from when you wake up tomorrow morning. It's like preemptive FOMO. Have you experienced that before? Many of my patients describe this scenario, and it has occurred dozens of times in their lives.

close up of person with hands covering face

The Dieter's Cycle of Bingeing and Dieting

There is a familiar and repeating cycle that, as a dieter, you are probably familiar with. It starts with disappointment or distress about your body. You have this understanding that your body is the way it is due to your eating habits. You start thinking about all the "bad" and "forbidden" foods you are eating. You feel guilty. You decide to go on a diet, beginning tomorrow. But it is still today, and the diet has not started. You know that everything you enjoy eating will be off limits once the diet starts, so you feel that you must have it today before you can never have it again. So you have your "last supper" and binge on those tempting, delicious, and evil foods.

Then you start your diet--whichever diet it is this time. It is restrictive and depriving, but you follow it close to perfectly. You stick it out for a few days, a few weeks, or a few months. You are thrilled, because being able to sacrifice enjoying food helped you lose 20 pounds. Eventually a new stressor sets in, and that, combined with your feelings of deprivation, leads to a quick end of the diet. As your body naturally regains its lost weight and the guilt of eating "badly" sets in, the thoughts about starting a new diet come back. But remembering those terrible feelings of deprivation you had during your diet gives you an anticipatory fear and brings you right back to the last supper before the next diet.

Outcomes of the "Last Supper

There are a few unfortunate outcomes to having this "last supper." I think the worst outcome is that it reinforces the idea that you can never again have these foods again. This thought comes from the perception that these foods are particularly unhealthy or cause weight gain coupled with your tendency to binge when eating these foods. The guilt after binging on "bad" foods reinforces how "bad" these foods are.

Potential Alternative to the "Last Supper"

A goal many of my patients have is to not constantly think about food and not feel impulsive when food is present. They aim to be calm around food and have a feeling of non-forced choice whether to eat and how much to eat. They want food to be enjoyable rather than something that consumes their lives.

But how do you get there? This mindset does not come from a diet or depriving yourself. It comes from a lot of mental work, openness to reframe how you approach food, and time for all the mental work to sink in. My patients relearn that they have enough good food that they can eat any time. They deeply recognize that food is not here today but never again to be had. They eventually can approach food with an abundance mindset rather than scarcity mindset.

Abundance Mindset

What is the abundance mindset with food? In short, it means expanding and improving your potential pleasure from food. It involves eating a variety of foods and flavors. It is being open to trying new spices, cuisines, and cooking methods. The goal is to expand the list of foods you enjoy. Rather than approaching good nutrition from the perspective of deciding foods are not allowed, approach nutrition by adding in things you have never tried or have not tried in a long time.

Instead of the "Last Supper"

Ultimately, the aim isn't just to be able to start a diet without having the "last supper." Instead, the goal is to avoid the highs and lows of dieting and bingeing. In place of their former behaviors of swinging back and forth between the ends of the spectrum, my patients feel better when they ride somewhere towards the center.

To learn more about how to do this in your personal life, reach out to me for nutrition counselling!


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