Opinions This is a discussion post. The publication expresses the opinions of the writer.
January is the favorite month for slimming clubs. New Year's resolutions do stick in our minds – especially to cut inches around the waist or elsewhere, and we sign them with great zeal and enthusiasm. “Now or never!”, we think. What we do know is that most things work, but only as long as you're persistent, and you use less energy than you burn.
This is not a plea about which treatments work best. No, the inspiration to write came from a general practitioner who was one of the participants at a recent course I held for the Norwegian Medical Association. She was suffering from the following problem:
“Why is it that when I'm called 'good' for a few days, and I completely stay away from things that I've decided to completely eliminate from my diet, and then after a while comes what I always call crack? Suddenly I'm standing in the store with a little chocolate in a bag. I think I'll just take a few bites, But during the evening I emptied the whole bag. Not only that, but on a night like this I can also eat dinner myself, for example, bread stuffed with butter and nuts. Why on earth would you do that? I know that many of my patients on a weight loss program do that. What is this and how to avoid it?
Yes – we have a term from health psychology that explains this phenomenon. We like to call it the “what the hell effect.” When this term is translated into Norwegian, it smells somewhat academic. In Norwegian, it is often translated with a less exciting expression, which is the subjective experience of dieting.
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Periods of overeating
We can find some origins of this term dating back to the 1940s. Then a study was conducted in the United States of America on 36 healthy young men (1). Study participants had to follow a low-calorie diet for six months and starve themselves to lose weight. This study highlights a number of questions that have been important for understanding eating disorders. One result of this study showed that many participants experienced bouts of binge eating. “I experienced a sudden and complete loss of willpower and ate several cookies and a bag of popcorn,” one participant reportedly said.
Although episodes of binge eating can be one of the many symptoms of eating disorders, it is important to emphasize that the “what effect” itself is not a disorder or disease, but a type of eating behavior that can occur as a result. As a result of starvation and the application of strict diets.
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But is it useful to think about the “crack” when it comes to a long-term project where we have to change our living habits and lifestyle? No, I'm not sure about that. What the “what the hell effect” is all about is that you've probably set strict rules for what is and isn't allowed to be eaten beforehand. So it just so happens that we're humans, not guinea pigs, and active temptations can be found everywhere—even in your kitchen cupboard. We can call this external stimuli. If you are hungry enough, and there is the smell of freshly baked pastries in the store, it will be very difficult to resist. Additionally, we know from research that we have a limited attention budget, so when our minds struggle with difficult things, willpower and impulse control automatically decline.
When it's either internal or external influencing factors, standing there with your completely unplanned bag of goodies, and at the same time interpreting it as a crack, you're most likely in an unhelpful “what the hell” cycle. What happens is that you both think and feel that you have ruined your plan. You regret consuming the bag of goodies, and feel a loss of control over what you eat. You just feel miserable.
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Eternity on and off
So what's the cheapest and quickest way to feel better? The irony is that these are the same things I decided not to eat, i.e. more high-calorie foods. No, it's not steamed lean cod with cabbage! Some also feel guilt and shame after this incident. When you go to bed that night, you will most likely decide to resume treatment and control the next day – unless it is Saturday.. This becomes for the stomach an eternal intermittent eating, which gives after all, by no means permanent weight loss.
So what is the mental prescription?
* Make a realistic plan that you believe you can stick to for the long term. There should be “wiggle room”, where, for example, a little more is allowed when there is a weekend or a party. A couple of beers may not be what hides your scheme, but that's what you get after that.
* Eliminate the word “crack” from your vocabulary when it comes to food and drink. The word fits best in smoking cessation programs. The thought of crack only leads to overeating!
*If you have gone on a rampage, as most of us do from time to time, then you have gone on a rampage – and you have not killed anyone! “That's how it was today. A shrimp baguette with mayonnaise wasn't planned, but I was so hungry I couldn't resist the temptation. I think I should have some extra food in the car.”
* Ally yourself with someone if you feel you need support. State clearly what motivates you. We humans are different and need slightly different types of encouragement.
* If you decide to exercise for half an hour a day, there is no problem if you can exercise only 15 minutes from time to time. 15 minutes of brisk walking is much better than 15 minutes in front of the screen!
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a happy new year!
1. Keys A, Brozek J, Henschel A et al. Biology of human starvation. Minneapolis, Minnesota:
University of Minnesota Press, 1950
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