The Last Supper Syndrome

by Michelle

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.