Before you declare war on all things unhealthy, take note: you might need more than sheer willpower to fight those cravings.
It is a few days after the Chinese New Year holiday.
You rouse yourself from a food coma and look around the house in despair. The dining table is littered with empty plastic containers which once displayed the spiraling beauty of almond cookies, and emptied trays which once held carefully stacked kueh bangkits surrounded by a seemingly endless number of pineapple tarts.
Thinking back over the past few days, you can only recall the stress of avoiding your relatives’ endless questions that you got tired of answering long ago. Questions that seemed to remind you of everything you’re lacking – a significant other, a certificate, numbers such as grades, weight, height – and now, it seems, self control.
“Whatever happened to my New Year’s resolution?” You wonder as you pick up a crumb of delicious homemade pineapple tart. Licking your fingers, you survey the last few treats in what was once a minefield of temptations, and decide that your festive indulgence is fine. Just a few more cookies, and the diet will definitely start ‘tomorrow’.
Before long, the container is empty. Your tummy is full, and so is your heart – not with food, but with guilt.
We’ve all been there…
How many times have we said these sentences to ourselves?
“I will make healthy choices tomorrow.”
“This is the last slice of pizza I’m going to eat.”
“Well, since my diet starts tomorrow, why not have a few more bowls of pasta tonight?”
It looks like we are not the only ones who feel this way, especially when the holidays roll around. According to a study published in the Journal of Health Psychology in 1998, the festive season is a crucial time when individuals trying to control their weight are at risk of relapsing into old eating habits.
Intuitive eating expert Theresa Kinsella describes this common phenomenon, known as the ‘last supper syndrome’, as “the underlying beliefs that promote fear that certain foods won’t be allowed or available down the road.”
Here’s a classic example: You know your aunt’s pineapple tarts won’t come around for another year, so you dive straight into that buttery crust. And if you’re called away, you can barely focus on a family game of ban luck because you can’t take your mind off that sweet tart until every crumb is consumed. You justify it by telling yourself that you will not eat unhealthy food for the next few months.
According to WebMD, this is dangerous as it goes to the extreme of complete elimination, dismissing the process of habitual, consistent and sustainable changes.
Be careful about binge eating
Envisioning a future without our favourite foods is also counterproductive when it comes to losing weight, as it sends people into a bingeing frenzy, noted psychiatrists from Stanford University. A diet is set up to fail if it is framed by principles of restriction.
The sense of imagined deprivation pushes the body into a state of stress, which induces the need to go on a full-out binge – this is one of the symptoms of an unhealthy relationship with food. Food is then used as a reward for “good behaviour” on restrictive diets, and all too soon, the whole dieting resolution falls apart.
And if you think dieting is a girl’s problem, hold your horses. A recent Wesleyan University study demonstrated that even though most studies of binge eating focus on women, binge eating is equally common among men.
The results also revealed that disordered eating patterns can indicate deeper psychiatric and social interaction issues.
For example, binge eaters had increased rates of depression compared to non-binge eating counterparts. Increased rates of work and non-work activity impairment, higher levels of stress, and inadequate amounts of sleep accompanied these side effects, regardless of gender.
Intuitive and mindful eating are more helpful in sustaining a healthier lifestyle – emotionally, mentally and physically.
Try this instead!
There is no one-size-fits-all plan for health. Every body has different needs, but one thing is for sure: food is meant to nourish the body and soul.
French fries may not be the healthiest snack by conventional health standards, but sometimes you just have to have some to remain sane on crazy days at work.
However, don’t use that as the default excuse to devour your secret food stash; craving certain types of foods may also suggest a nutritional deficiency.
Remember that time when you were craving for a slice of smooth, rich and creamy chocolate fudge cake? Maybe your body was reminding you of your low vegetable intake, and you would feel better after a balanced and guilt-free meal.
Perhaps when we start to understand what we really need, instead of seeking temporary gratification, we will start to find a balance in our relationship with food…..and no indulgence will ever have to be our last 😉