Learn more about common struggles in the pursuit of weight loss and how to handle them.

The Last Supper….at Christmas?

Some reports estimate that the food consumed on Christmas Day contains an average of 7,000 calories. To put this into perspective, the ‘average’ adult needs 2,000 calories a day. These figures are not precise or accurate for an individual (we’re working with estimates and averages here), but aside from that, I have 2 further issues with this statistic.

  • Firstly, who’s counting?
  • Secondly, most people will eat more than their normal quantities over the Christmas holiday period.

Food has a long history of use in celebrations, and Christmas is no different. The real question is “Is it a problem?”

For some, no, some (over)indulgence will not be a problem – normal eating resumes quickly with no lasting repercussions.

Having said that though, it would take a concerted effort to consume around 7,000 calories and not feel some ill effects. So if this estimate holds any truth, I suspect people are eating to uncomfortable bursting point. But why?

There are a number of possibilities.


You may have no concerns about your health or weight, no food issues, confidence in your ability to manage food on the whole and so enjoy occasional over-eating.

You might like the post meal dozy slump, the food coma, as you associate this with festivity, holidays, indulgence, comfort and a complete switch off from ‘normal’ life.

You go back to normal eating naturally once Christmas is over.


Christmas is one of the few times of the year when eating much too much has almost become expected.

If you struggle with food control, and maybe don’t usually allow yourself to overeat in company, Christmas presents an occasion to overeat with impunity. After all, it has become completely socially acceptable.

There may even be an element of competitive eating – a ‘sport’ in which competitors compete against each other to consume large quantities of food in a short period of time. You may even take pride in your ability to eat so much!

You are of course entitled to eat what you want – just don’t lose sight of the fact that eating isn’t supposed to hurt!

You may be engaging in Last Supper eating

Last Supper eating represents a possibly familiar pattern of purposely overeating before the self-imposed New Year diet.

It is a conscious decision to over eat, drink and be merry, because come the New Year, the diet starts.

You feel duty bound to eat all the ‘rubbish’ out of the house so it’s not there to tempt you when your diet starts. You are probably not thinking about whether you actually want or are enjoying the food you are eating. You are only focused on eating it now, before you no longer allow yourself to have it.

‘Last supper’ eating is common among people who diet frequently. It’s not unique to the Christmas period and can happen at any time of the year – think about how you might eat in the weekend before the start of the Monday diet!

Since losing weight is consistently on top of New Year resolutions lists, it is probable that ‘last supper’ Christmas feasting, before the pain of diet deprivation, is equally common.

It is completely appropriate to enjoy food and festivities. However, if you are bothered by your weight, the problem occurs when the boundary between appropriate food enjoyment, and damaging overeating, gets crossed.

Last Supper eating is supported by the notion that certain foods are ‘allowed’ while others are ‘not allowed’. So, for example, if chocolate is ‘not allowed’ when you start dieting, Last Supper thinking almost encourages chocolate intake before it’s off limits.

So, in effect, the decision to start a New Year diet can have a direct impact on your eating decisions over the Christmas period.

It is therefore plausible that if you were able to move away from the notion of foods being ‘allowed’ or ‘not allowed’ then you would have no particular incentive to overeat them in the first place.

This requires a major shift away from dieting mentalities (on a diet, off a diet, on a diet…..), a re-focus on the clichéd ‘relationship’ with food, and finding a way of eating that works for you long-term versus the often short-lived dieting restrictions.

Don’t wait until the New Year (or some random Monday) to start improving how you use food. This does not mean cutting out your favourite foods. But it does mean eating those foods in a managed way, not in a ‘last supper’ way.

Eating something because you tell yourself you’ll not be allowed it come January is wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrong.

So what can you do?

In no particular order:

  • Dump the dieting mentality – fluctuating between weight loss on a diet with weight gain when off your diet is a highway to nowhere, and a reflection of how ill-fitted your diet was to addressing your food problems. Don’t repeat old mistakes.
  • Ditch diet rules, but respect the boundaries – that is, eat what you know you want and will enjoy, but stop eating when satisfied or full.
  • Respect your food – you’re lucky to have it in abundance. Take time to enjoy it, instead of indulging to the point of discomfort.
  • Respect your body – it has more wisdom than a box of mince pies. Listen to it – if it tells you you’re full and unlikely to fully enjoy more food right now, stop eating. The food will still be there later.
  • Challenge the thoughts encouraging you to eat. Stop labelling food as ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘allowed’ or ‘not allowed’. Labels like this influence your thoughts, which will affect your food decisions, but usually in a negative way.

For example:

Thought: I’ll not allow myself to eat (insert food) when I start my diet.
Behaviour: Overeat while you have the chance

Consider the following thought shift:

Thought: I can eat (insert food) at any time of the year. I’ll have some now, but I don’t need to sicken myself.
Behaviour: Include the foods you enjoy, on your terms, while respecting your fullness and satisfaction levels.

Change the thought, change the behaviour.

So eat, drink and be merry. Enjoy your food, but no need to overdo it today.

Because tomorrow, you’ll get a chance to eat all over again.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

If you wish to further explore the topics covered in Diet Dilemmas blog posts, see Diet Dilemmas book.

Hyperbolic Discounting – What the…?

I love a supermarket coupon. You know the type….buy ‘this’ ítem and get 100 bonus points. ONE HUNDRED. I can never resist.

But I’m being taken advantage of. Businesses know about the psychological phenomenon called hyperbolic discounting. You may never have heard of this, but it’s very relevant to how you make decisions about several things, including what to eat.

Hyperbolic discounting relates to the tendency to want something NOW, the joy of instant gratification. Without really thinking through if this is the best option.

So back to the coupon for a moment. The item in question was £2.99. The actual ‘value’ of 100 points was 50p. If the coupon had said “If you give me £2.99 for something you don’t need and never intended to buy, I’ll give you 50p” then the rational part of my brain would hopefully have realised that this was not a great deal for me. But the coupon didn’t say that. It said 100 BONUS POINTS. And I had to have them. Now. Instant gratification. While the rational part of my brain had a snooze.

Apart from the coupons, hyperbolic discounting is at work in many other areas of our lives:

  • Credit cards…buy now, pay later.
  • Pensions…..holiday this year, save next year.
  • Sales…only one day left. Last chance to buy!

Put simply, we prefer immediate reward, or instant gratification, over future benefit. How far into the future you may see the benefit will also have a huge effect on our decision making. For example, if offered £50 today or £100 tomorrow, most people are likely to wait one day for £100. However if offered £50 today or £100 in 2 years’ time, you are more likely to take £50 today. In this case, two years is simply too long to wait, even though the reward is greater.

So what’s it got to do with how I eat?

Health and eating behaviours are subject to the same psychology. We all succumb to instant gratification at least occasionally.

  • Just one more drink…I’ll be fine tomorrow morning
  • Early to bed…..but I really want to see the end of that film
  • Exercise…I should go for a walk, but the sofa is so comfy
  • Another biscuit…I’ll be super strict tomorrow.

Pleasure and comfort now, worry about the consequences later.

On the other hand, you may have decided to forgo immediate food pleasure for the future benefit of weight loss. With that in mind, which of these options would you be most likely to go for:

  • “Lose 10lbs in 7 days” (a headline guaranteed to sell thousands of magazines) or,
  • “Lose 1 stone in 6 months”

You are more likely to be drawn to 7lbs weight loss in 10 days. Six months is just not soon enough for our immediate world. What happens after the 10 days is another story. The rational part of your brain knows this claim to be a short-lived fix, but the lure of rapid weight loss is strong.

So if your psychology is going to try to work against you, what can you do about it?

Scenario 1: I must eat it NOW!!!

Imagine the thought: “There’s chocolate in the fridge. I’m supposed to be on a diet, but I WANT THAT CHOCOLATE. NOW.”

You are at risk of choosing immediate food pleasure over longer term benefit. But it’s not a done deal. You have options.

You could go right ahead and eat, letting hyperbolic discounting guide your decision, or you could hold hyperbolic discounting at arm’s length until you try to understand why the chocolate has a grip on you. Pause for thought and consider the following:

Why do you want it now?

If you genuinely know you want it and will savour every second of it, that you will eat only to the point of satisfaction and then stop, without any overeating and with pure enjoyment and no guilt, then that is appropriate eating.

It’s completely fine to decide you want the instant gratification of food. But if you always eat on these occasions, that may be a sign of unconscious, habit driven behaviours or deep rooted dieting mentalities.

For example, if you ‘want’ it mainly because you think you are not ‘allowed’ it on your current diet, or for reasons such as boredom, then you have identified a food problem that needs to be resolved.

Is there a ‘bigger picture’?

It may be helpful to consider the ‘bigger picture’. When you eat something you don’t really want for momentary pleasure, it has a ripple effect – when the enjoyment has passed, there may be an on-going effect on, for example:

  • your confidence in your ability to control yourself around food
  • how you feel physically after eating, such as bloating or nausea
  • restricted eating the following day to ‘make up for’ previous eating
  • ongoing inappropriate eating caused by guilt.

If you can open your eyes to the bigger picture, it becomes possible to see the victories in deciding not to eat spontaneously all the time.

Scenario 2: I must lose 5lbs by next week!!

Some people may use the tactic of ‘I’ll not eat that because I want to have lost xlbs this week” – tread carefully if you relate to this. Food decisions based only on weight have a nasty habit of driving yo-yo diet patterns. Going on an unrealistic, unsustainable restrictive diet to achieve a weight target is a hollow and short-lived victory. Weight loss is not a goal. Improved food behaviours is a goal. So don’t focus on weight loss (see blog post Scales – friend or foe?)

If you have a history of making food decisions mainly based on whether you are trying to lose weight or not, you probably overlook the value of the intangible stuff. Confidence in yourself, trust in your food decisions, reducing the power food has over you, feeling in control of your food decisions, the ability to take it or leave it…..these things are extremely important. Make these your immediate gratifications (at least occasionally).


Your psychology may predispose you to unhelpful behaviours, and make you feel that you are either powerless against food and must eat now, or have no choice but to go on a diet that promises maximum weight loss in minimum time. This is a destructive cycle and there is little benefit in it for you.

So back to the coupons….I fell for the coupon trick every time. Now I know what’s going on, I am going to be stronger against those coupons. I’m going to engage the rational part of my brain and not be tricked into purchasing something I don’t want or need…..at least until I get my next coupon.

If you wish to further explore the information in the Diet Dilemmas blog, see Diet Dilemmas book