Causes of Weight Gain: The Last Supper Effect

Anyone who has dieted, and especially repeat dieters, can tell you that feelings of deprivation kick in before the diet has even begun.

Everyone’s talking about the latest new diet and you decide to try it.  You buy the  book, stock your house with all the recommended foods, and resolve to start next week.  In the meantime, your meals and snacks are made up of an abundance of everything that’s not allowed on the diet.  Generally, they’re not foods that, eaten in the amounts you find yourself eating them, take you in the direction you want to go.

Weight loss diets, no matter the type, create deprivation.

  • Physical deprivation comes in the form of not enough food or essential nutrients.
  • Emotional deprivation shows its face as not being able to eat what we want.

Knowing that certain foods or food in general will be “taken away” triggers the thinking  “get it all now while the getting’s good.” At Green Mountain, we call that the Last Supper Effect.  And it just causes more weight gain.

The Last Supper Effect in Action

Which of these Last Supper Effects have you experienced?

  • You overeat all weekend long in preparation for the diet starting on Monday, or every night because you keep telling yourself, “I’ll be good tomorrow.”
  • You finish all the “goodies” in the house in preparation for “being good tomorrow.”
  • You eat something you don’t even like or aren’t in the mood for because you think it’s your last chance to have that food.

Three Steps to Eliminate the Last Supper Effect

Step #1: Don’t restrict or diet!

Once the fear of not having enough to eat or not being able to eat your favorite food is taken out of the equation, it’s no longer about this being your “last chance to eat it.”  Instead choosing what to eat becomes about

  • whether you are hungry
  • whether the food in front of you is the type of food you are in the mood for at the moment
  • whether the food is the type your prefer or the best quality
  • how that food makes you feel physically and if that’s how you want to feel

Step #2: Talk to yourself differently.

The Last Supper Effect is what we call a thinking error.

Say we decide life would be easier if that cake weren’t sitting in the kitchen.  The Last Supper Effect tells us how to get rid of it – eat it!  Life will be simpler tomorrow, and in the meantime, we’ll have been able to eat the cake.

When we look at it rationally, though, we see that’s not a real solution.  Try reframing your thinking in these situations.  You could say:

  • That was my old way of thinking and it hasn’t worked for me in the past.
  • I’m NOT going on a diet tomorrow, Monday, or ever again. Diets don’t work and I know this.
  • Do I really want to eat some of the cake now? If I do, I can have it.  If I don’t, there’s no need to eat it.  It will be there tomorrow.
  • Is having the cake in the house too big a challenge right now? If so, what can I do with it – give it away, freeze it, throw it away? I can still have cake when I eat out, and I can also work towards being able to have cake in the house without feeling I need to eat it all.

Step #3: Make peace with food.

Which sounds more pleasant?

  • Enjoying a couple slices of pizza when you really want them.
  • Having no pizza all month, then eating a large pie over a weekend as you tell yourself you just can’t control yourself around pizza and really, must, just have to swear off pizza for good.

Putting It Together

Experiment with this strategy for learning to eat foods that previously triggered the Last Supper Effect for you.

  • Tackle one food at a time.
  • Plan to eat it when you want it. Note that you may have an exaggerated desire for something if you’ve been restricting it. Once you really give yourself permission to have it, over time you will find you don’t want it as much.
  • Eat it in a supportive environment. If keeping a half gallon of ice cream in the freezer at home feels too challenging, enjoy it out with friends.    You can create a supportive environment at home, too, by eating it like Geneen Roth suggests, “with the intention of being in full view of others.” This is also about learning to eat without shame, giving yourself permission to enjoy what you choose to eat regardless of size.
  • Eat mindfully, savoring every bite, fully enjoying the experience.
  • Speak positively to yourself about your experience, then let it go. Avoid reverting to defeating thoughts that label foods or yourself as “bad.”  Move on to the other things that make your life meaningful and enjoyable.

Final Comments

Key to making this strategy work for you is truly giving yourself permission to eat what you want and, truly, as much as you want.  Knowing you can and will have certain foods in the future, if you want them, can help you decide whether you really want them and how much.

Here’s to happiness and health, eating the foods you love!

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