Have you ever found yourself saying things like, I am starting a no carb diet on Monday. I am cutting out all drinking for the next 3 months. I am going to be a Vegan (they can still eat chicken right?). Absolutely no more sugar for me. I am going to work out every day at 5:30 a.m. before work. I am never eating dairy. I am going to workout twice a day. I am going to lose 80 pounds. I will never eat another cookie as long as I live. I will meditate for an hour a day after my 90 minutes of hot yoga.
“The best laid plan of mice and men often go astray.” -Robert Burns
Though many times we have all had good intentions with our goals and ideas, thoughts like I listed above are usually not sustainable. I will use an example to illustrate my point.
Let’s say you want to cut back on your beer or wine consumption. (Drinking responsibly in moderation can be fine, but with increased drinking can come an intake of increased calories in more ways than one). If you tell yourself you are not going to drink alcohol anymore, but your co-workers have invited you to the pub after work to blow off some steam, you may find it helpful to come up with a plan:
Ok, I am going to order an ice water, no a sparkling water with lemon! I got this. Then you arrive at the pub and everyone is enjoying their happy hour and you decide to order a drink as well-whoops. A glass of wine turns into 2 or 3 glasses...everyone is sticking around, why shouldn’t I relax and enjoy myself? After a couple of hours of sipping, you start to feel famished as you haven’t eaten since lunch. The table orders a round of mozzarella sticks and cheese fries to share and you say, What the hell…I already blew it! Can you pass the dipping sauce! Anyone wanna go shareskis on some nachos?
The what the hell effect is actually a term coined and studied in psychology, and is very well demonstrated among people who diet. Experiments show that dieters often do okay until the inevitable day when they break their diet rules. Then they stop monitoring their eating (“Was that my fourth piece?”) and ignore or are unaware of their feelings of fullness.-psychologytoday.com
How do we battle the what the hell effect?
Number one, STOP DIETING! So many of the examples above are just not sustainable for the long haul. (Yes, many people have successfully became vegans and stayed away from sugar). But for many of us, words like all, never, and every day…are only preparing us to experience unreachable expectations. Let’s look at the happy hour example once more.
A more appropriate response may be:
I am going to cut back on my weekly alcohol intake. I am planning to only indulge in a couple of glasses on the weekend during social events. If my co-workers ask me out to happy hour, I will be sure to have a protein shake, nutritional bar, nuts, or sensible snack before I go so I am not hungry and tempted to eat the junk food at the pub. I will order 1 glass of wine, and I will sit and enjoy it with the company of my friends.
If you find yourself often experiencing the what the hell thinking patterns you may have had some internal dialogue like this from time to time:
I haven’t made it to the gym all week, what the hell…I will just lay around all weekend and try again next week.
I had a cupcake at the office for _____’s birthday-guess I blew it. What the hell…I didn’t feel like cooking tonight-McDonald’s it is!
I have been eating healthy and exercising for months and have only lost 5 pounds. What the hell…I am headed home to the couch after work for some Facebook, Mad Men, and Ben and Jerry’s!
STOP! Catch yourself. Stop yourself. And try to rephrase your thinking:
I haven’t made it to the gym all week, but every little bit counts! I will be the weekend warrior!
I had a cupcake at the office for ____’s birthday. I haven’t had a treat like that in so long, yum! Good thing I work so hard. Back on track with my dinner tonight featuring grilled salmon and lots of greens!
I have been eating healthy and exercising for months and have only lost 5 pounds. As they say, lose it fast, gain it back fast. I must trust the process and note how much healthier, stronger, and energetic I feel. I will continue and not let the scale derail my efforts!
Years ago, I used to be very guilty of saying what the hell…I was always on a diet and the moment I felt I couldn’t measure up, what the hell, give me a pop-tart, was one of my many bad habits. It wasn’t until I stopped dieting and focused on health and strength as my goals that these patterns dissolved. Continue to work at it.
Continue to focus on health, balance, and sustainability, and you will be a success. I promise!