by Linn Thorstensson | Mar 15, 2023 | blog, healing, mindful eating
Have you ever heard the term “Last Supper Mentality”? I bet that even if you haven’t heard the term before, you have probably engaged in it, at least if you have ever prepared for any kind of diet.
“Last Supper Eating” is the eating that happens *before* intentional attempts of restriction. It can also be seasonal like Easter, when the chocolate bunnies are out in full force and you are gearing up for another diet to start a “get beach ready” diet as soon as Easter is done, which might mean that you end up eating more chocolate than what you had planned or what even feels good, just because in the back of your mind you know that chocolate will be off the menu for the coming weeks. So that means best to get in some extra now!
Like one of my recent Reclaiming Body Trust participants said “you do more damage in that anticipatory eating leading up to the next diet than when you are not restricting”. Revelatory!
Last Supper eating is part of the same Diet-Restrict-Binge cycle where backlash binges usually happens as soon as we finish the diet or when we can no longer keep up the restrictions. The same mechanisms are at play here – restriction. But in this case it is the anticipation of restriction that is driving it.
So how do you move away from “Last Supper Mentality” and this kind of binge eating?
My invitation to you is to explore this: What if restriction is not the answer?
What happens when you sit with this question? What comes up for you? What are you feeling in your body?
Restricting food, food rules, diet plans and any other variation of these often feel like safety. And it is really hard to let go of something that feels, on some level, that it would threaten our survival.
And… at the same time, at some point, we may arrive at a place where the cost of continuing dieting over and over, is simply too high and that it is time to do something different.
But if not Dieting then what?
For me I did arrive at a point where I could not put myself through that restrictive misery One.More.Time. As I stood on the scales for the umpteenth time and expected it to tell me that I deserved to be happy I had a lightbulb moment!
Why did I give so much power to this inanimate object? I didn’t have to wait to be happy until I weighted x kg /lb. It was something that I could give to myself now. Perhaps there where other ways to find happiness that had nothing to do with the scales?
Ever since that day I have been on a quest to find happiness that is not tied to what my body looks like.
Diet Culture keeps telling us that if our bodies just look a certain way, life will be good. And that’s not to say that living in a smaller body might not make life easier due to the privileges that can bring.
However, things that losing weight does guarantee us is this: health, friendships, intimate relationships, happiness, joy, contentment, creativity, freedom.
I get that the idea of giving up dieting can feel scary, especially if your eating feels chaotic right now.
Here’s a suggestion to start with: Take a sheet of paper, fold it down the middle and then write down all the benefits of being on a diet on one side and on the other side write down all of the costs of dieting.
Which list is longer? Are there any benefits that would be still beneficial even if weight loss was not the outcome main outcome? If so, are there ways to reach these that does not hyper focus on altering your body size / weight?
I hope this was helpful to explore letting go of those things that no longer serves you.
Disordered eating, dieting, restriction, and emotional eating is rooted in wisdom and the coping skills that came from it were helpful at one time, but they may no longer serve you now.
Separating the idea that your body must look a certain way to be worthy of care, food, love, belonging might feel new AND radical. That is because it is.
Living in a culture that places certain bodies in a hierarchy over others makes it radical to take up space and letting yourself live fully and unapologetically as you.
It doesn’t mean that a) You are not worthy to do so. You are worthy simply because you exists. And b) this is something that is only possible for others. It is possible for you too.
by Linn Thorstensson | Aug 5, 2022 | blog
If you do work that includes guiding people around food, nutrition and health you have most likely heard someone say, “I am addicted to sugar, once I start it seems impossible to stop”. If this is how you feel, know that you are NOT alone. I hear this statement over and over in my clinical practice.
In the past, I too felt like I was a sugar addict. My desire for anything sweet seemed to stretch far beyond just having “a sweet tooth”. There was a compulsion to head straight for the cupboard in our house that had all the biscuits, or for the freezer for the ice cream. If I bought a bag of pick n’ mix sweets, I seemed to have a total inability to stop and put the remainders away, even if my body was telling me that it clearly had had enough. I simply had to keep eating until the bag was empty… It felt like all “the evidence” (read lived experience) pointed to an addiction to sugar.
So let’s look at it, is sugar addiction real?
When it comes to the evidence for sugar “addiction” you can, if you look hard enough usually find evidence that backs up this point of view. But what happens if we dig a little deeper?
Some schools of thought support the hypothesis that it is indeed a real condition and there has been a push to get Food Addiction, of which sugar addiction would be a subgroup, to be included in the DSM. Organisations like Overeaters Anonymous, OA, which is based on the same premise as Alcoholics Anonymous, believe that any “white” foods such as white flour, white rice and white sugar is an addictive substance and thus the only way to overcome this addiction is total abstinence. This may very well work for some, but it may also be an approach that keeps people stuck in a loop of self-blame and self-shame, reinforcing the belief that they are broken because they fail to stay off the white stuff, again and again. (Hint – you are not broken; your body is simply doing its best to try and keep you alive!)
The sugar addiction model is based on a comparison between refined sugar and drugs of abuse such as cocaine and heroin. This evidence comes from studies on rats where the rats where fed either sugar solutions or cocaine and it seemed that the rats much preferred sugar over cocaine. These studies have a few problems when it comes to see them as conclusive evidence for sugar addiction being a real thing.
In the very comprehensive review study Sugar Addiction: the state of the science (Westwater 2016) the researchers looked at and compared both animal studies and the limited number of human studies available to compare the substance of sugar to the drug of heroin and cocaine. In doing so they found a few variables in the rat studies that questions the validity of sugar addiction as a true substance addiction. They also question the validity of Food Addiction (FA).
One of these where that the rats only expressed binge like behaviours when they were in an intermittent feeding schedule with either 16h or 24h fasting. They also binged / consumed the highest amount of sugar in the immediate time of reinstated access to the sucrose solution. This is different to how they would consume the drugs where they tend to consume more and more to get the same initial hit. What was really interesting is that when the rats had ad libtum access to food and sugar solutions they did not express the same binge-like behaviours as when they did not.
Humans aren’t rats of course and Westwater et.al also looked at the more limited research on humans when it comes to Food Addiction and sugar addiction. In this case most of the current research is done by using the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS) and the more recent YFAS 2.0. This is a scale where several things are measured such as persistent eating despite negative consequences, unsuccessful attempts to cut down and impairment of functioning because of overeating. It also provides 21 examples of foods from five different categories. These are sweets, starches, fatty foods, salty snacks and sugary drinks. Depending on the scoring an individual can be “diagnosed” with “food addiction”.
The biggest question when it comes to YFAS is: Is it measuring what it thinks it is? Food Addiction shares many overlaps with Binge Eating Disorder (BED). Binge Eating Disorder is already included in the DSM-V with very specific criteria for diagnosis. It was added in 2013, yet many people never receive a diagnosis or isn’t considered sick enough to fit all the criteria for a diagnosis but could still do with support to recover, but that is an article for another day!
The criteria for BED is:
- Recurrent and persistent episodes of binge eating
- Binge eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
- Eating much more rapidly than normal
- Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
- Eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating
- Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating.
- Marked distress regarding binge eating
- Absence of regular compensatory behaviours (such as purging).
What differs from BED and Food Addiction, is that BED is an eating disorder with a multifactorial aetiology and Food Addiction is seen as the cause of food / sugar being an addictive substance that drives the addictive behaviour and compulsion to eat beyond what feels physically comfortable to the individual.
The science doesn’t seem to conclude that sugar addiction as a substance type addiction is real, however for the individual struggling with binge eating the feeling of addiction is very real. I very much believe in validating our clients that what they feel they are experiencing is a real valid lived experience. However, it is not because sugar itself is an addictive substance. What we need to remember is that restriction drives binge eating. This means that total abstinence is not the answer. Instead, we need to together with our client explore any and all potential underlying triggers and causes to the binge eating behaviours.
Questions you may want to explore are:
- Are you currently actively restricting food intake or food groups?
- Are you currently dieting or have in a recent past?
- Do you have a history of food insecurity?
- Are you actually eating enough, throughout the day?
Bingeing might also be functioning as an emotional coping mechanism and/or as a trauma response, which does still not make your bingeing on sugary foods a substance addiction.
Things that I work with people on to support their relationship with food is:
- Establish a regular eating pattern
- Work on blood sugar regulation through the pairing of carbohydrates with fats and proteins
- Work on letting go of food rules and invite them to give themselves permission to eat ALL foods.
This might seem like really basic suggestions but in my work with clients for over almost a decade, many of which have struggles with feelings of addiction around food, I have seen this simple nutrition advice to be incredibly effective in calming down binge eating behaviours, so don’t underestimate how powerful regular eating and simply eating enough food for the body to feel adequately nourished consistently can be.
Conclusion, the topic of Food Addiction is still controversial, but the current science does not support evidence of such. However, the lived experience of feeling addicted to food is very real and may form part of a binge eating disorder. There is almost always an element of some kind of restrictive eating behaviours, and often but not always, food is being used as an emotional coping tool / trauma response. Both are of importance to address for healing and recovery to occur.
Margaret L. Westwater, P. C. F. H. Z., 2016. Sugar Addiction: the state of the science. European Journal of Nutrition, Issue 55.
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