A few days ago, I got a text from a good friend: “Up for a mojito or cuban food? About to start my diet back and having a final meal.” I responded with “you can eat anything you want in moderation at any time.” After about a 30-minute discussion on the phone – more accurately, I think I was doing most of the talking – she still wasn’t convinced. She’d already started her diet, and seemed excited.
The idea of that final meal reminded me of my past experiences, the I-can-eat-whatever-I-want-today-because-tomorrow-I’m-going-to-be-a-diet-super-star final meal. I’d eat a few of my favorite foods or go to a restaurant. It would be my last hurrah before I got serious and gave the diet thing another try, because clearly, I wasn’t trying hard enough. I was doing something wrong.
How many of you decide to feast on a final meal before you get on the “right” path to a thinner lifestyle? That’s when you’ll do everything right. You’ll watch your calories. You’ll work out five times a day. You’ll ignore your internal cues – because your body doesn’t know what she’s talking about – and you’ll kick butt doing it.
But your last supper isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The final meal mentality is a dangerous one. Here’s why:
- It promotes an all-or-nothing attitude. Any time you don’t see shades of gray with eating or exercising, you’re sliding down a slippery slope. You start to view your choices as clear-cut categories. Either you choose the salad, and you’re good. Or you eat the doughnut, and you’re bad. If you eat the doughnut, you’ve committed an “all,” so you might as well throw all willpower to the wind and just keep eating. The next day, you get back to “nothing” and restrict what you eat. Life is all about metallic grays, silvers, gunmetals, blue-grays and charcoals. It’s about flexibility. A final meal is the antithesis to flexibility. This black-and-white thinking leaves no room for moderation – what’s really healthy.
- It isn’t a lifestyle. Realistically, how long can you go without having a meal that you enjoy? And second question: If you could have it in moderation, here and there, why would you want to? The very idea of a final meal goes against leading a healthy lifestyle. It’s well-known — and well-researched — that dieting can lead to overeating and so begins a risky cycle of yo-yo dieting, which is unhealthy. It’s a lesson I wish I would’ve learned years ago. Ask yourself: Can I be on this diet for the rest of my life? Do I want to be? Is it really worth it?
- It fuels obsessive thinking. When you can’t have something, do you want it more? When you aren’t supposed to be thinking about a certain something, is it always on your mind? For most of us, yes is the answer to both questions. To me, a final meal isn’t something to savor. It doesn’t bring relief at all. It can bring obsession. Sure, the first days of your diet might be exhilarating. You’re doing it right! You’re fast on your way to the freedom and delicious taste of being thin. Right? But it’s likely your thoughts also go back to that last meal and all the foods you can’t eat. And you keep coming back to them.
- It fuels the “negative voice.” Your final meal sets you up for failure, because, again, not eating a favorite food is unrealistic. This doesn’t make you a failure or someone who has no self-control or self-respect. This doesn’t make you a bad person. In fact, you’re human. But when you schedule your final meal, with all its fixings, you create an atmosphere of negativity. Because when you finally do go back to the foods that were on your final meal – because, again, you’re human – you’ll get angry and blame yourself. You’ll ignite your inner critic. And no diet is worth that.
- It’s ineffective. We know that the effectiveness of diets is abysmal, so having a final meal doesn’t even work. It only wastes your time and your energy. Here’s a definition of eating from Ellyn Satter that does work.
Instead of giving up your favorite foods, consider giving up the notion of the final meal, with all its restrictions and negativity.
Have you experienced your version of the last supper? How did it make you feel? Do you think the idea of a final meal is healthy?
On a side note, I want to highlight a video that Therese Borchard (who blogs at Beyond Blue, one of my all-time fave blogs) recently posted on her blog. In it, she talks briefly about her eating disorder and more in-depth about struggling and recovering from depression and bipolar disorder. For so many of us disordered eating runs deep. Maybe below the unhealthy habits is a deep sadness or an intense anxiety. I think the video – and Therese’s blog in general – is tremendously helpful. So go see it. It’s great.