The Last Supper Syndrome

Happy Mardi Gras! Also known as Fat Tuesday. Or Shrove Tuesday. Or pancakes-for-supper.

It struck me as an odd coincidence that, just last night, I was talking with one of my groups about the thing I call the Last Supper Phenomenon.

Here’s how it happens: Something happens that makes you feel bad about your weight. You feel fat.

Because you’ve been inundated since childhood with the message that being fat is the worst thing that could ever happen to you, an uncomfortable tension (between the fat body you have, and the thin body you think you should have) builds.

Almost automatically, to release the tension, your brain rides the crazytrain straight to restrained-eating-town.

Even if just momentarily, you think of food restriction. You tell yourself, “On Monday I’ll cut back.” Or even, “I’ll start making Smart Choices ™ ” (which is translated from the original Jerkbrain to mean “eat food I dislike, and avoid food I do like.”)

And then the Last Supper Phenomenon kicks in.

As soon as you have that thought of restriction, or that thought of possibly-maybe-in-the-misty-uncertain-future restriction, you begin to think about food – specifically, the foods that will soon become forbidden. You want them. An uncomfortable tension (between the foods you want to eat and the foods you think you should eat) builds.

To resolve the tension, you hit on what seems like a brilliant solution – feast now, fast later. You empty the pantry, make a special run to the store, to your favourite pizza place, in anticipation of self-imposed food scarcity. You make what looks for all the world like a valiant effort to EAT ALL THE FOODS!

Which is kind of like Mardi Gras – the last hurrah before Lent, the time to get all the fat out of the larder and make delicious things. Things you will very soon have to go without. Things that you must eat ALL OF. RIGHT NOW. OR ELSE.

For some of us, because we are completely sick of dieting, Monday never actually comes. Nevertheless, just the thought that Monday might come, that the other shoe might drop, is enough to keep the restraint-disinhibition cycle alive.

Because you are, in effect, threatening yourself. You’re threatening to take food away from yourself, and especially if you have a history of chronic dieting or disordered eating, this is going to scare the shit out of you, and you are going to react violently to the fear of food scarcity.

After the violent reaction, you feel guilty. The dissatisfaction with yourself deepens, and you begin to look forward to NEXT Monday morning, when you will finally, really this time, once-and-for-all, stop eating food like some kind of dirty human being.

Which leads to the reappearance of the Last Supper Phenomenon, which has now escalated to the Last Supper Syndrome – a cycle of bouts of wildly eating, threatening never to eat again, and then even more wildly eating until you have finally become a flesh-and-blood substantiation of a Cathy comic.

The trick, then, to ending the Last Supper Syndrome is to stop threatening yourself.

You do this by first becoming aware of when it happens. You listen to your thoughts, especially the quiet, slippery ones in the background that seem to have a mind of their own. The ones that come automatically, like a knee-jerk reflex, on a bad body-image day. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear them.

They say things like, “On Monday, I’ll cut back.” Or “I’m going to start making Smart Choices ™ .” Or “All I need is portion control.”

The gist of all of them is “I feel fat and that is unacceptable and I need to do something about it RIGHT NOW.”

When you hear them, it means you’ve caught them in the act. When you catch them in the act, you can drag them out of their preferred obscurity into the light, and force them to undergo rational scrutiny. You talk back to them, again and again, as many times as it takes.

You remind yourself that, no matter what your weight, your first duty is to take care of yourself. Which means feeding, not depriving, yourself.

Finally, you make a promise to yourself – that Monday will never come again.

break50

When I wrote this post, I hadn’t read the book Intuitive Eating for ten years. I recently (at the end of 2012) went back and re-read it, and realized the authors use this same term – “The Last Supper” – in describing the same phenomenon, so I wanted to give them credit! It’s also just a great book.

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53 Comments

  1. Myndie
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    I remember having probably hundreds of ‘Last Suppers’. I’m so grateful to be over that…after probably 20 years of it. Thanks for putting it in such great words!

  2. Posted February 21, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    This so resonates.

    I am also curious about what I call “food insecurity” and if it’s connected to “the Last Supper Syndrome.” To see the full cupboards and freezer in my house makes me feel all warm and gooey inside, KWIM? I don’t need to actually eat the food ..in fact I often say to myself “I don’t have to eat the food, I just like to buy it.”

    • Posted February 21, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      Yep, totally – food security literally means having access to (being able to “secure”) food. The term (and its sibling, “food insecurity”) is usually used when talking about hunger and poverty in the world, but I definitely think we can feel it on an individual level.

      Fear of scarcity makes you feel food insecure. And abundance makes you feel more secure. What you describe makes perfect sense to me.

      • Lisablue
        Posted February 21, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

        Oh wow, totally. When I got laid off in November I started buying ALL THE FOODS. I have “extra” staples stashed all over our apartment. I’m cognizant that I’m doing it, so then I’ll do something like notice we have no more potatoes, and make the conscious decision to NOT buy potatoes because we have tons of other starches to use up instead…. and then think of nothing but potatoes for weeks, until I just go out and buy the fucking potatoes.

        On the other hand, I was really happy to be able to help a friend last night, who has no money for groceries and was out of a lot of things. I was able to pull together a nice bag of food for her.

        Anyway. Food scarcity issues. I haz them.

    • Posted February 21, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      There have been times in my life where I did not have enough money to buy food.

      • Posted February 21, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

        Me, too, kathy. In college, I sold plasma to buy groceries. It allowed me to splurge on liverwurst so I could get my iron levels back up enough to sell plasma again. Plus, both DH and I were raised by parents who’d survived the depression. You’d be AMAZED at how much food is in our house for two people….

        • Posted February 22, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

          Us too..just for two people, it’s ridiculous really…you’d think all the grocery stores were going to run out of food or something..and then I end up throwing a lot out (produce, usually)

          • Posted February 23, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

            It is for this reason that I only allow myself to buy frozen veggies ahead of time, and fresh produce only the day I know I’m going to use it (except for things like onions, potatoes, and carrots, which keep well.) I also rely a lot on dried and frozen fruit, or sturdy stuff like apples. If I’m buying tender berries or seasonal stone fruits, I know I need to have a plan to eat them or cook with them the same day or next day.

            My fridge is the place where produce goes to die, so I have to be really strict with myself about it!

  3. Patsy Nevins
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    It certainly works for me. I have lived the non-dieting lifestyle for about 32 years now, but have had bad body moments, fears, insecurities, times when I thought I was eating ‘too much’, feeling guilty, & insecure. Also, as a person who has spent most of my life with financial insecurity, I have known many times, including since I found fat acceptance, when there was literally not enough food in the house, when I fed my husband & sons first, & sometimes went to bed physically, not psychologically, hungry. To this day, I am hungrier when the groceries are low & much less hungry right after the house has been stocked. I also love chocolate, & as long as I keep it in my house, I will eat some daily & enjoy it, but I only have intense cravings if I run out.

  4. Cate
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    You’re awesome.

  5. MamaCheshire
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    My spouse had some problems with food insecurity growing up (related to financial mismanagement by his not exactly mentally stable primary caregiver) and definitely does the “we just have to BUY it!” thing. I also notice that I have a much harder time turning down “FREE FOOD!” than turning down food I don’t actually want in any other situation – especially when a financial crunch is happening or a major expense is looming.

    So yeah. That.

  6. Sim
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Wow, it’s like you’re in my MIND!

  7. Rachel
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    I’ve done this so many times. In fact, this is what led me to bulimia. I started a “harmless” diet, (and was NOT OVERWEIGHT), when I was a freshman in college; it was an 11 day diet, then one weekend “off” to eat whatever you wanted, then 11 days again. I remember thinking, “OK, tomorrow I can only eat what that magical little piece of paper says, so tonight I will eat all of the pizza. And cinnastix… Obviously.” I was seeing every donut like it was the last one on earth and I knew I “couldn’t” have anything good for at least 11 days so I’d go on full-fledge binges, fail my diet mid-way through because I wasn’t satisfied, and, quite frankly, I liked myself… but society said not to, so I was being obedient… I thought that might fix my broken heart or ake me better at algebra, (which translated in my insecure brain as, “not so stupid and worthless”). 2 years of bulimia, another solid 6 months of ROCKYYY recovery road and bouts of EDNOS and the near impossibility of eating “normally” again, and I had gained 15-20 lbs. due to “Last Supper Syndrome.” And still, to this day, if my “fuzzy self,” as you say, thinks I’m going to restrict, I too, eat everything and pretty much anything. Thanks for writing this. I love having words put to thoughts or behaviors I thought were my own demons.

  8. Ellie
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    And it’s such a vicious cycle, isn’t it? Decide you’re going to restrict your food on such-and-such date –> eat everything in sight while you “still can” –> gain a little weight (or just feel sort of gross and sluggish) –> think “I better fix this! I should undo this at least!” –> decide you’re going to restrict …

    I have been caught firmly in this cycle since my diabetes diagnosis in July, and I am miserable, and I cannot quite find my way out. (Nor can I truly stand up to the voice, which I know is irrational and hurtful and working off totally false information, that coos, “Just get to such-and-such weight/size/body shape and THEN you can work on treating yourself right and feeding yourself well … “)

    This is a stunningly depressing comment. I’m sorry. I am so tired of food consuming my life. I have squandered so many years with this. I hate my disordered thinking and my disordered behaviors and my stupid diabetes. I want to go live on a desert island or something.

    • Sim
      Posted February 22, 2012 at 12:42 am | Permalink

      Ellie, what you said really resonated with me. I also have diabetes, and a history of disordered eating, well, still have it really, but anyway, I find the restrict – binge cycle happens SO regularly. Whenever I hear some scare thing on tv, or read something about diabetes or get a lecture from a doctor, I get the “I really must stop eating xy and z” and then the immediate eating of x,y and z to extremes. I just don’t cope well with people telling me I can’t have something, or that if I do I’m going to DIE!

      • Posted February 22, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        Whenever I hear some scare thing on tv, or read something about diabetes or get a lecture from a doctor, I get the “I really must stop eating xy and z” and then the immediate eating of x,y and z to extremes. I just don’t cope well with people telling me I can’t have something, or that if I do I’m going to DIE!

        And this is what frustrates me SO MUCH with the way health news is presented in the media, and also with how health care practitioners present options to their patients.

        I mean, is it helping you? Does scaring the shit out of you result in healthy eating? Does saying “OR YOU WILL DIIIIIIIE” result in better management of your diabetes?

        No. No, it does not. So maybe they should shut the fuck up until they have something more helpful to say.

    • Posted February 22, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      It’s not depressing, it’s just real. And your reality reflects what I saw when working in the diabetes clinic – that there is a higher risk of disordered eating with these kinds of diagnoses because it puts SO MUCH PRESSURE on your eating, and makes it seem like the most dire thing in the world.

      You deserve to treat yourself right and feed yourself well right now. Losing weight is probably not going to make your diabetes go away, though it would be so much easier if it worked that way for everyone. But if it did work that way, even having a really-really-really good reason to lose weight for health reasons wouldn’t make long-term weight loss and maintenance any more likely to happen for most people.

      However – eating well and treating yourself well is actually pretty effective at helping people manage their diabetes, regardless of weight changes.

      Here’s a really helpful little article on intuitive eating for diabetes: http://www.lindabacon.org/pdf/BaconMatz_Diabetes_EnjoyingFood.pdf

      The gist: eat your carbs along with protein, fat, and fiber. Go for a walk after eating something particularly carb-heavy if you’re worried about your blood sugar. Don’t blame yourself for your condition. And I’ll toss in one more – eat at regular times and give yourself permission to eat until you feel truly satisfied. Take medication if you need it and don’t place the entire burden of curing what is, when it comes down to brass tacks, a hormone disorder all on yourself and your eating.

      • Travis Brand
        Posted March 3, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

        And this is why I love my doctor and wish I could clone him. I lost fifty pounds, and still became diabetic. His response? “Well, sometimes genetics beats out anything we can do to defy it.” His orders? Watch your blood sugar, these foods tend to cause high blood sugar, figure out what gives you bad reactions and don’t eat that as much.

        So I switched to whole wheat bread, allow myself french fries occasionally, and am motivated to cook my own food more. But he actually suggested not restricting foods, because nothing makes you want something more than not being able to have it.

        • Posted March 5, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          Your doctor sounds like my kind of guy :)

  9. Posted February 21, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    I really like the analogy of catching your thoughts in the act. It is exactly what it’s like once you start to change that whole process around your thinking. And catching those thoughts in the act is kind of shocking at first, like when you catch a person in the act of doing something sneaky. But like people, once you come to expect those behaviours from the thoughts/people, you can take steps to mitigate the damage they might do. You can let them know you’re on to their game. And that does help.

    Great piece Michelle – sharing!

  10. Liddy
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this. Thank you so much. It’s incredibly timely. I’ve been reading about FA for nearly two years but have only allowed myself to start putting it into practice for myself for…about three weeks, I think? It’s such a fragile thing right now. Awesome, but scary. I’ve been letting myself have foods previously on my “bad” list–Chinese, chips, ice cream–to figure out what food works for me in what amounts, and to learn how to eat intuitively. Already I’ve felt the panic of the “Last Supper Syndrome” so many times! I’m mostly able to push it down, thank goodness, usually by rereading my journal from last year when I was at the height of my gym/restriction period.

    My mom is in the hospital right now after a couple of surgeries to treat her breast cancer, and so I’ve been there 24/7, grabbing what I can at the cafeteria–primarily foods from my old “bad” list, like chicken sandwiches and fries. And you know what? It’s worked just fine. I remind myself that these foods still contain nutrients, they taste good, they make me feel good and give me the energy I need to focus on taking care of my mom. What more can I ask of food, really?

    I never would have been able to make that conclusion before. Thank you for changing my life for the better.

    • Posted February 22, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      I remind myself that these foods still contain nutrients, they taste good, they make me feel good and give me the energy I need to focus on taking care of my mom. What more can I ask of food, really?

      This makes me so happy to hear, you have no idea!

      I’m hoping the best for your mom.

    • Fromthefuture
      Posted February 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      I also love what you said about it giving you the energy to focus on your mom. I am finishing up an undergraduate degree right now. I’m a little old to be in undergrad, so I feel I have some perspective/can look at the girls who are still in their teens/very early twenties and remember how that feels, though I am slightly more confident/happy with myself now. At my university (which is a relatively prestigious, expensive, city school) there are signs (permanent signs in hard plastic. I know because I tried to pry one down) on the back of the doors to the bathroom stalls, that read “STRESS EATING!” The sign goes on to say that the stress of exams can cause “binging on carbs and sweets” and that “if you feel like eating, exercise!” and my personal favorite “Throw away or hide your junk food if you have a paper to write or an exam coming up”
      It also mentions that if you stress eat you should see a psychiatrist and a doctor, as any amount of weight gain can “cause diabetes, heart disease, depression, and obesity”
      Not only do 18 year old girls NOT NEED TO HEAR THAT SHIT, and not only are they at a really special age with food, where they’re on their own for the first time and LEARNING to feed THEMSELVES, but also, and most importantly:
      Accomplishing your academic goals is MORE IMPORTANT than five pounds. These girls have worked their whole young lives to go to this school. They are ambitious and intelligent. They have bright futures. But being thin (oops, I mean “healthy” blah) is more important than their minds? WTF. The girls should be worrying about their exams and their LIVES, not about whether they are mentally ill because when they have four term papers to write for the first time ever they find themselves finishing a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Last time I wrote a paper I ate the most insane shit. I was up all night and eating every so often because it keeps me awake better than coffee. I don’t know if that is disordered, but I sure as hell didn’t have time to worry about it.
      The sign also didn’t mention the drinking and stimulant abuse that accompanies exam time, the increase in cigarette consumption (I used to smoke when I studied and so do MANY people) nor did it mention panic attacks or any other issue. Aside from weight gain. It’s TWO weeks.
      I see a psychiatrist, and I once told her that I was a little depressed. She asked if I was exercising, sleeping, etc, and then asked if I was eating enough carbs/calories. I was afraid of carbs at the time, and said something to the extent of, “aren’t carbs the devil or whatever?” she replied that “carbs are how your brain makes a lot of the chemicals that make you feel better.”
      It isn’t a disorder that a piece of toast makes you feel better. It’s biology. Really.

      • Betsy
        Posted February 24, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        Oh my god, I love this: “It isn’t a disorder that a piece of toast makes you feel better. It’s biology.”

        Clears up why I love toast so much.

      • Posted February 24, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        Thank you so much for this comment. I am having One of Those Days where everyone around me seems to be totally judgmental and messed up around food, and it is so nice to hear someone speaking some sense.

  11. JH
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    Yep, this happened to me. Deprivation caused an obsession with food (stuff I don’t even usually like) and I would binge on food then deprive more. Restricting caused disordered eating, binging and food obsession. By not restricting and eating what ever I want, usually when I’m hungry, I don’t obsess. I feel like I’ve been freed from an unhealthy and time consuming obsession and it’s quite amazing and also has had no impact on my body size (I don’t weigh myself). Thanks for the post.

  12. Carolyn
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Almost automatically, to release the tension, your brain rides the crazytrain straight to restrained-eating-town.

    The mental picture this brought up was fantastic. I think I own the damn train to crazy restrained eating town. At least I’ve decommissioned it though! :)

    This reminds me of a conversation I had with my therapist last week when I was trying to explain my view on HAES and how I view my body now. I came to a moment of clarity when I realized exactly what my bottom line is:

    I will never again hurt myself in an attempt to be “healthy”

    I call it my “stupid shit” boundary. If some stupid shit comes up that looks interesting, I hold it up to my little litmus test of “will this hurt me?” It’s amazing how much time, money, & sanity I’ve saved doing this.

    • Posted February 22, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      I will never again hurt myself in an attempt to be “healthy”

      This is so awesome, Carolyn. I’m going to be stealing this quote and using it for eternity :)

      Also, your “stupid shit” litmus test is perfect for dealing with media health scares and “helpful” nutrition advice. Example – just yesterday I was talking to a client about an article that came out recommending intermittent fasting (eating practically nothing for 2 days out of the week) as a way to reduce risk of dementia. Using the “stupid shit” test, I asked, and had her ask, What would this mean for me, given my history of disordered eating?

      It meant we’d both end up hurting ourselves trying to attempt something like this. And that the risk reduction (which is probably not confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt, given that I don’t believe they’ve done clinical trials on this) probably wasn’t enough to justify the increased risk for both of us of developing disordered eating patterns again. Not to mention the blow to quality of life.

  13. Posted February 22, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Awesome post, Michelle. Loved how you tied it into Mardi Gras, which is the perfect metaphor for it, and timely too!

    This phenomenon of the Last Supper was a big part of the reason why I quit dieting. I saw myself beginning to do more and more of this overindulging before a diet, and it was disturbing. I was never a binge eater, but I’d indulge in a way that did not reflect my normal eating patterns. In time, I saw myself headed down the path of binge eating if I didn’t do something to stop it.

    Once I realized that the behavior was directly tied to dieting and restricting, and also realized how harmful the whole cycle of yo-yoing was for my body and my mental health, I stopped dieting. And lo and behold, that Last Supper behavior disappeared. I no longer do anything of the sort.

    I’m convinced I would have developed an eating disorder if I’d stayed on the diet train, and I have no doubt I’d be a lot heavier from all the yo-yoing. Stopping the dieting was the healthiest thing I did for my life and my sanity.

    Thanks for writing about it so eloquently.

  14. Posted February 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    For some of us, because we are completely sick of dieting, Monday never actually comes. Nevertheless, just the thought that Monday might come, that the other shoe might drop, is enough to keep the restraint-disinhibition cycle alive.

    Yes, this. I have been trying to catch myself in the act when I threaten myself with, “tomorrow I will…” scenarios. It is so difficult, that groove is worn so deep. Every time I can, I’m like, “WATCH! ALERT! PAY ATTENTION!” and sometimes it works. I notice that if I go into my body and figure out what sensations I’m having, try to stay present, etc. it goes away every time and I can think rationally. But if I don’t pay attention it feels like I have no choice.

    Awareness, awareness, awareness. This really resonated. Thank you.

  15. Posted February 22, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Man, I recognize this one from my past! Luckily it’s been a long time since I’ve had this conversation with myself, but I did far too many times.

    @Carolyn: I love your ‘stupid shit’ boundary. More of us need to start thinking in terms of your litmus test.

  16. Sheila
    Posted February 23, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    Wow! You have no idea how much I needed this! I just fell off the Weight Watcher Wagon and have been plowing through my list of no-no foods until ‘Monday’ when I get back on the Wagon! But Monday was 4 days ago! Thanks!

  17. Anmarie
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    Yes. What you said.
    Barely an hour ago I was trying on a dress to wear for an event tomorrow afternoon. Pictures will be taken, video will be shot, and since I’m proud of my accomplishment (it’s a “graduation” to the next level of dance class), I want also to be proud of the pictures.
    But, standing in front of the mirror in my favorite printed wrap dress, I heard that voice in my head, reminding me that the pictures won’t look as good as I think they will, so I should wear something all black so I can “blend” instead. Black isn’t me, though, and this is not a funeral – it’s dancing! Still standing in front of the mirror, my critical eye goes right to my tummy and I catch myself sucking it in…thinking “I really need to lay off the sweets and eat more vegetables”. Yep. “Change my diet” thoughts based on body image crap. AGAIN. I totally bypassed my own excitement for this dance accomplishment, and barely gave credit to my consistent movement efforts lately for my strong looking legs. Oy.
    Clearly I’m still working on this, but I SO appreciate being able to come here and read about how others have made it beyond this!

  18. Posted February 25, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    A few months back I decided that I would not diet again. Never. It makes my brain crazy, and food and a distorted body image has completely taken over my life. I suddenly realized that I would not, and could not go on this way – even if I am a tad bit overweight. I want to love me for me instead of planning to love me 10 kilos down the road. I’ll rater just find clothes that fit and learn how to jog for the pure pleasure of it.

    A friend pointed me in the direction of you blog. This was my first post. And it could have been written about me. I do this all the time. Then I continued reading and I swear I giggled in a combination of fear and elation at everything about “eating just what I want”. I’m still not entirely sure that is allowed for me, but I’m working my way there.

    Well. This was just a long winded way of saying thank you, I guess. So – thank you for providing help for those of us who just need to stop this crazy ass cycle of dieting.

  19. Agnes
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    And for those thinking, “Only a fat, gluttonous person would think like this”, well, the very existence of holidays like Mardi Gras belies that. It’s part of being human – if you know you are going to have to fast, or after you fast, you feast.

    • Posted February 27, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      I agree about the fasting then feasting. I had a medical test a number of years ago that required basically I eat nothing but jello, drink lots of fluids and drink some terrible stuff to “clean me out” for about 2-3 days before the test. Fasting b4 the test also had me focusing (if I recall) on almost nothing but food, the fact I couldn’t eat “real” food, how long til I got real food, etc. etc. Let me tell you, once I was done that test, I went out to a restaurant and ordered a steak dinner!

  20. Ducky
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this post, Michelle.

    I have a version of Last Supper Syndrome revolving around foods that my doctor and I have concluded that I have an intolerance to but are very hard for me to give up and it’s causing me a lot of confusion and heartache. For me, dairy (specifically cheese and ice cream) and wheat cause me a lot of problems with inflammation, low energy, bowel troubles, sleep problems, etc. I know this and I know I feel so much better when I don’t eat those foods for long periods of time. But I have a terrible time giving them up! If I even think about giving up dairy, I want to binge on cheese and ice cream “one last time” and I feel guilty and physically awful (joints hurting, fatigue, etc). How do I balance Last Supper Syndrome with my food intolerances that make me feel like crap? I don’t care about losing weight. I just want to feel better. Any suggestions?

    • Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      This is a really hard situation, and I feel for you. I’ve definitely heard this story before from other people with intolerances.

      All I can really tell you is that the people I’ve seen who most happily coexist with their food intolerances are those who have made a strong and clear connection in their minds between the particular food and the negative effect it has on them. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, not eating a food you have an intolerance to is still a CHOICE, and in order for it to feel good and not torment you, it really does have to be a choice.

      Might be a crappy choice – between not eating a beloved food or feeling yucky – but, unless it’s an allergy where the food might kill you outright, it is indeed a choice.

      It sounds to me that telling yourself THOU SHALT NOT EAT DAIRY actually doesn’t work for you, since you end up bingeing on it at some point anyway. So making the conscious decision to include those foods in your diet for now, while you learn to live without them by finding tasty alternatives, probably won’t make that much difference.

      One of the things you might try, if it is safe for you, is to keep eating the foods that you have trouble with, while at the same time starting to seek out and trial various substitutes for those foods in your diet. Start with the “add on, don’t take away” method. (Give yourself permission to throw away the test foods you don’t like during this phase – you may end up wasting a lot of food, but it will be worth it in the long run.)

      While you do this, it can be helpful to keep a really simple food journal of sorts, where you note down whenever you eat a food you have trouble with, then check back in after eating it, and maybe over the next few hours or until the next day, and write down how you feel or what symptoms you are having. (Don’t bother getting uber-specific in describing the food or writing down amounts, unless amounts really make a difference in how you feel. It shouldn’t feel like a dieting food journal.)

      You may also consider the possibility that maybe, in the end, a cost-benefit analysis will tell you that it’s worth it, SOMETIMES, to eat those foods – when the pleasure of eating them will outweigh the consequences. This is something for YOU to decide – no one else can tell you whether or not it will be worth it.

      Once you’ve made a strong connection between how the foods make you feel, and also have really good alternatives to fall back on that help you to feel satisfied, I think you will find it easier to decide whether or not you want to keep these foods in your diet.

      • Ducky
        Posted March 3, 2012 at 3:50 am | Permalink

        Thank you, Michelle for the suggestions. These are good ideas and I’m going to be working on implementing them. :)

  21. Posted February 27, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    @Ducky, Michelle alluded to substitutes without detail – I’d like to add something. Finding viable alternatives to the stuff that hurts seems like the key in the long run. I think you should be careful to make sure that the alternatives are seriously good things, so that you will actually really want to eat them.

    If you hate soymilk icecream, it will never ever ever work to swap that in for regular icecream. So it’s not a viable substitute for you, no matter what the health guidelines say. But how about a high class chocolate or raspberry sorbet, or a zabaglione, or coconut cream? Can’t eat cheese? Forget about the plastic substitutes, and choose to eat fancy french-style paté instead. Or whatever your preferred savoury treat is. Smoked salmon. Olives. Bacon. Whatever. It’s not depriving yourself of pleasure, then, it’s choosing different pleasures.

    Now, if only I could solve my own problems. *sigh* Other people are so much easier.

    • Posted February 28, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      These are great, thank you!

    • Ducky
      Posted March 3, 2012 at 3:51 am | Permalink

      Oh, good ideas! Thank you, Cath!

  22. Amanda
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Wow. I just have so much to say. I’ve never reached out to anyone about my weight “problem” before, but in reading this I really had to say something. This is absolutely the story of my life, or the past four years at least. I have been struggling with disordered eating and a distorted body image since middle school. In 8th grade, I went on a 1000(ish) calorie diet and lost forty pounds. Ever since then, my life has been hell. Every day has been “I’ll start tomorrow” and then I get home from school and eat the entire house. Everything in sight. All of my “forbidden” foods. Of course in doing this, I’ve gained every pound back + 15 pounds. Right now I am 5’3 and weigh 220 pounds. That is okay. I will not die because of my body size. I will not get diabetes from eating too much fruit (is that idea not ridiculous? I know there’s sugar in fruit and yada yada yada, but my goodness people) . I am only 17 years old, but my relationship with food is already so screwed up that I fear what the future holds. I don’t want to live every day obsessing over calories and worried about my weight. It has become such an obsession for me that I can’t concentrate in school, and I’m always putting my life on hold. I won’t do this or that until I lose weight. I won’t wear a skirt until I lose weight. I won’t put pictures on facebook until I lose weight. Well I’m sick of that life. Today starts the day that I will abandon that scale at the gym (because I will be working out to be healthy, not skinny). Today is the day I start eating normal. I know tomorrow, or Monday, or New Years, or whatever will never come. This is the day my journey to loving my body, inside and out, starts. I cannot thank you enough for bringing this to me, and making me feel like I’m not alone in this struggle. God bless.

  23. DuckyBelkins
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    I am living this article right now.

    My doctor told me that he thinks I might be sensitive to wheat and corn and asked me to cut both of those, and their by-products, out of my diet. As a poor, college student it’s hard! Especially since I hate cooking!

    Since I cut out the stuff 3 weeks ago I’ve been feeling great but after my last appointment I decided I could afford to splurge on two pieces of pizza and a brownie since I won’t see my doctor again for another 2 weeks.

    I was wrong, I ate the stuff 5 days ago and I still feel like crap. Bluuuuurghhhhh

  24. Posted March 7, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I think it’s so weird that some diets, even diets supervised by doctors, promote this. They try to save people from “starvation mode” by encouraging exactly the syndrome you describe.

    In my personal case, I’m Christian, and I fast for Lent. I eat much simpler food, no eating out, sweets or alcohol. It has take me years to find a way to make a sacrifice that is meaningful, doesn’t compromise my health, AND doesn’t feel at all like a weightloss diet. I think people who live all the time with the feelings I have on the week that Lent starts are in a very cruel torture.

  25. Nanasha
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 1:08 am | Permalink

    So it’s Girl Scout Cookie season in my neck of the woods and I have this coworker of mine who is both very thin and also very much obsessed with Thin Mints. She bought like 10 boxes of them and then went through this whole story about how she had to hide them in her truck under all these things so she had an “obstacle course” to get to the cookies because otherwise she knew she couldn’t “control herself”. She also brought the cookies to work and ate quite a lot of them, bemoaning loudly about how she “can’t control herself.” Then, later on (today), she spent all morning talking about how she just “needed to sniff this last Thin Mint” but not eat it or anything. Needless to say, she finally ate it, gave us a “status update” on it, and I found myself somewhat frustrated at her behavior. I bought maybe 12 boxes of cookies and I think that between my husband, my daughter and I, we’ve finished maybe one or two boxes in two or three weeks. We still have several boxes of Thin Mints and other “tasty cookies” under the counter in an easy-to-reach location. I just haven’t really been feeling like cookies lately, and when I do want a cookie, I’m happy with just a couple.

    But I can remember back to childhood when my parents were really, really strict about food (my mom would lock food away in her room that was “sweet” or “bad for you” and then eat it herself-because she was thin and blond and stuff but I was a chubby kid so I wasn’t “allowed”). I can remember times as a kid where I was *so hungry* and I would just eat peanut butter and Crisco out of the container by the spoonful (I know, gross) because I didn’t think I was going to get anything satisfying all day (my parents always left half-rotten fruit or buggy fruit on the counter “for a snack”, but the thought of biting into a rotton part or half a worm turns my stomach even today). And since I was a girl scout, my mom would obligingly buy some cookies and I would just sneak,sneak, sneak them, eating them by the sleeve, never feeling satisfied, because we never got cookies and once they were gone, we wouldn’t get them again in a long long time. To some extent, this was very much like the “last supper” phenomenon, and I think it largely contributed to me feeling very unsatisfied when it came to food except for when I was at my grandma’s house because there was always food, it was always tasty and exactly what I wanted to eat, and she never tried to tell me I couldn’t have something, so I was able to relax.

    I’ve had many periods of food insecurity, and it causes me to binge whenever food *is* available, but in instances where I have plenty of food, I find myself strangely calm and able to listen to internal hunger cues so I don’t overeat.

    I find it humorous because it’s almost backwards from the “conventional wisdom” that everyone says (ie: “if you have it in the house, you’ll eat it because you won’t be able to control yourself”)- in fact, having cheese-its in the house has inspired me NOT to eat them because I know they’re there if I were to want them, but I just…don’t….

    • Posted March 9, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      Having enough of the food that you really like – and the permission to eat it and truly enjoy it – is what Ellyn Satter calls “the paradox that gives control.”

      Every time I talk about permission, people come out of the woodwork to tell me how OUT OF CONTROL they would be if they gave themselves permission. I have no doubt in my mind that is because we live in an eating disordered society – even those of us without clinically diagnosed EDs.

      Your story is so familiar to me. I have heard it from dozens of my clients, and Ellyn Satter has heard it probably from hundreds of people. Because it is exactly what happens when food becomes either scarce or forbidden (your body really doesn’t seem to know the difference – just that food is in danger of GOING AWAY) – you panic and you eat all the food.

      I’m not a big fan of seasonal campaigns like Girl Scout Cookies and Cadbury Creme Eggs (despite loving both of those things) because, in a society where we are so collectively fucked-up around food, it can’t help but result in this kind of behaviour – and that’s EXACTLY what they’re banking on to drive their sales.

      Ultimately, people probably end up eating MORE of something over the long-term when it’s only intermittently available, or when they only intermittently permit themselves to eat it, than they would if it were constantly available or constantly permitted. That’s the paradox. And it makes $$$ for the food industry to do things this way.

      It’s also no secret that food industry is pretty closely tied up with the diet industry – a lot of the same companies control brands in both industries. So it’s like they take with one hand, and give with the other – and in doing so, whip people up into such a confused, terrified, scarcity-mindset frenzy that they DO become out of control with food. But not because they are naturally out of control – because they have been manipulated.

      Thank you for your story. I really feel for kid-you. That’s a horrible thing to experience, and almost universally kids in that situation will do exactly what you did, and sneak food. It’s a survival mechanism, and you did what you had to do to survive and become the person you are now. Despite your parents mistakes with feeding, it sounds like you’ve found a way to be normal around food, and that is such a great thing to hear.

  26. Becky
    Posted March 10, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    Michele – not trying to hi-jack this thread, but my email to you bounced and I have a question I haven’t seen you address. What has been your experience with clients and how long it takes to normalize eating after a long bout of dieting? I lost 60 pounds (am 45 years old) and have been in maintenance mode for two years (actually plays out as binge/restrict mode). I can let go for a while, but after about 1-2 weeks of eating nonstop, I panic and get back with the “program”. How long (and how much weight gain) does it take to get over the rebound?

    Thanks,
    Becky

    • Posted March 11, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      Hi Becky – so sorry about the email problem! The short answer is: it really depends on the person, because everyone is different. Some people gain a lot, some a little. Some people find it easier to get back to intuitive eating, and some people find it really difficult.

      The hardest part is, if you have been maintaining a lower than “natural” body weight for a while, you need to be prepared to gain that weight back. You have to do a cost-benefit analysis and decide whether keeping your weight down is worth the continual struggle with food. Some people will honestly decide yes, it is worth it, and will continue with the struggle their whole lives. Some of them will be able to keep their weight down, but most of them will probably regain it even while still trying to restrain their eating. And some people will decide that getting back to eating normally, and exercising for fun and health rather than weight loss, is more important than engaging in weight struggles. It is really a personal decision, and it’s not an easy one.

      I wish I had a definite answer (or maybe magic button that would guarantee no one would gain weight when they stopped dieting), but sadly I don’t.

      PS I think I added your email to my safe recipients list, so if you want to try emailing me again, it may actually work this time!

      • Becky
        Posted March 12, 2012 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

        Thank you, Michele. Maybe I will get brave enough to get past the panic point and just go on with life. It’s been nice to be thin for a while, but it’s really made me crazy in the head.

        Becky

        • Posted March 12, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

          This pretty much describes exactly how I felt at the end of my last diet. Good luck :)

  27. Martina
    Posted March 13, 2012 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    Dear Michelle,

    posts like this are why I love, love, love your blog and admire you so very much. You just spell it out so clearly. Suddenly the pattern is there in all its evidence. And the things you say can often be applied to various other things as well as eating patterns, which I consider a lovely added bonus, since my most difficult issues lie outside the nutrition area (although my relationship with food and body image isn’t exactly roses and violins all the time, either).

    So, I guess I just wanted to say thanks. I really appreciate that you take the time to put your thoughts out there. There have been times when you’ve literally turned my worldview upside down (and in a good way, too).

    xox

    • Erin
      Posted December 25, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Oh my God this blog is the best… I had such a terrible relationship with food for the past ten years, I’m 18 now and I can soooo relate to that pre diet bingeing… I started dieting at about 7…and of course I didn’t really understand not only nutrition, but the full extent to what I was doing or how to eat. I really just gained weight in the end and If I’m honest, I hated being fat… I couldn’t walk down a street without being harrassed… I lost about 98lbs and looked great but then ended up anorexic…eventually I started bingeing, bingeing and purgeing and of course my diet mentality only exacerbated the issue because I would tell myself I would only eat x and y and never eat z for the rest of my years…I would find myself eating out of bins because I was so terrified of starving again. I still feel ashamed to eat and I only ever eat in my room because I think people think I dont deserve to eat. But then, that’s what I think :/ This morning I told myself Im starting paleo in the new year (Ive tried to do it about 8 times before) and now, even after xmas dinner and lots of seets and candy, all I want is to eat pb and banana sandwiches. I feel guilty for liking bread and fruit…. I feel bad for liking food… I just find it so hard to believe people wont hate me if they see me eating food. I also think certain foods will make me ugly and shit. :/ We need to learn to eat and be ok with that fact. Easier said than done though :O Think I might ditch the palo idea though :)

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