How to overcome the chocolate cake effect. What does this mean?
Let me give you an example:
If there was a beautiful chocolate cake sitting on your kitchen counter right now, would you be able to walk past it without eating any? What if you did eat some?
And what does your answer to that question tell you about your daily interactions with food?
I recently had this exact situation in my home. It was my husband’s birthday and a friend of ours had us over to celebrate and she made the most gorgeous, and delicious, chocolate cake for him.
And of course, what we didn’t eat that night came home with us.
I realized after I walked by that cake for several days in a row that I needed to share with you all what that chocolate cake has to do with my overall food choices and how it can help you to identify areas where you struggle, as well.
Food Is Neutral
The very first thing I want to address is what you may think when you see a cake like the amazing cake I had on my counter.
I know that many of you might think of that cake as “bad.” That is “bad” for me. I don’t eat “bad foods.”
But in truth, food is neutral. It only becomes “good” or “bad” when we assign those qualities to it.
Even as children, our parents warn us against eating too much junk food. These messages about food are further ingrained in us by a society that is afraid of carbs, afraid of meat, afraid of sugar, and always dieting.
Diets Don’t Work
As I passed this chocolate cake, day after day, I really started thinking back to my relationship with food over the years. For a long time, I thought that food and I, we were good to go.
And we mostly were, until I began to restrict certain foods in order to lose weight.
Did you know that studies show that 95% of people who lose weight on a diet gain that weight back in 1-5 years? And for 60% of those people, they gain back more than they lost on the diet.
And yet…we keep dieting.
We continue to take approaches to food that are restrictive, whether it’s restricting an entire food group or restricting ourselves to a certain number of calories.
Self-Sabotage, One Bite at a Time
“That cake is bad for you, Amanda.”
Those are the words that old Amanda would have said about that cake.
And I would have followed those words with words about how, if I ate that cake, I was a failure. That the cake wasn’t helping me achieve my weight loss goals. That it was bad for me and that I was bad for wanting it.
But what would eventually happen is that I would begin to talk myself down off the ledge and decide that, to show my control over that cake, I was just going to have one.little.bite.
Insert your treat of choice here. Maybe you are going to have one.little.bite of a brownie out of the pan or one spoonful of ice cream right from the carton. I know you have something you can identify with in this scenario.
You know where this is going, right? Of course, you do. Because I would venture to guess that at some point, nearly every one of us has done the same thing.
My one bite would completely satisfy me. I would feel good about restricting myself to the one bite and I would feel happy about how it tasted and the little rush of endorphins the sugar gave me.
But as I go on about my day, I am thinking about the cake. I am soon consumed with thoughts of the cake. I want more. And so, I decide to take just one.more.little.bite.
Again, you know where this is leading. Before the day is over, I have consumed the majority of that cake, one bite at a time.
And so eventually, all my little “controlled” bites lead to overwhelming guilt and shame. I feel that I am worthless, I have no self-control, and I have “done it again.”
And the major lie that I take in from this scenario is that, if I ate the cake, I’ve already screwed myself over so badly that I might as well just quit trying to do anything right.
I might as well eat whatever the hell I want now because it doesn’t even matter anymore. I’ve ruined everything I was working so hard for.
The Yo-Yo Effect
Are you with me? What is your kryptonite?
Is it cake, ice cream, or alcohol? What is that thing that you feel you have no control over, and how can you move from a place of struggling with it to feeling at peace and having a sense of ease over it?
First of all, I want to acknowledge that you are your own person and you are allowed to take care of your body in a way that seems most beneficial to you. Nobody else gets to make decisions for your body or for how you care for it.
But when you struggle with your body and you place restrictions on it through diets, it creates a yo-yo effect of self-love when you’re losing weight and self-hatred when you’re gaining.
It’s time to take a new approach. I want to teach you how to overcome the chocolate cake effect.
Aim for Slower Results
You probably don’t even want to read that headline, much less accept it. Slower results?
“No thank you, Amanda. I want to see results as quickly as humanly possible. I need to get this weight off. I don’t want it to take forever.”
And this, my friends, is why dieting doesn’t work.
- Your brain is smart. Funny, right? Of course, our brains are smart. But our brains are also super-protective over us, and so, if you begin to cut calories or to restrict yourself from specific foods, your brain is like, “Whoa, hold up. What are we doing here? Are we starving? I better stop all bodily systems that would cause us to lose weight and hold onto every ounce of fat we have so we can survive!”
- Diets make us angry. Once the brain kicks into survival mode, we get hungry. Our body needs energy to live and if we aren’t feeding it, our brain goes into panic mode. And so, we get more hungry because our brain and body are literally crying out for nutrition in order to survive. And that hunger and near-obsession with food cause us to become very angry with ourselves.
- Binge eating becomes the norm. If you continue restricting food instead of listening to your brain and what it is screaming at you, eventually your body is going to take over and you will eat. But it won’t be a “sit down and have dinner” kind of eating. It will be a binge that will leave you feeling sick and ashamed.
Food Should Be Intuitive
The really sad thing about all of this is that it isn’t meant to be this way.
Our relationship with food is meant to be very intuitive. Our bodies know what they need and when we listen, we can focus on eating nutrient-dense foods that build up our systems and increase our health.
But what we do instead through restrictive diets is condemn ourselves to a lifelong struggle with food. And the more we struggle, the less peace we have with food and the less ease with ourselves and our bodies.
So, how do we move from this method of restriction, of seeing foods as good or bad, to a mindset of eating to fuel our bodies and enjoying a piece of cake with no shame?
Eat to Feel Strong
It takes time to change our brains.
If you’ve been stuck for years in the mindset of bad food and good food, of restricting yourself to a caloric deficit, it’s going to take time to restructure your brain to a new way of eating.
So, one of the things I teach my clients is to eat to feel strong. Eat to feel good. Eat to be a happier person and to have a happier life.
Okay, I hear you. “Amanda, all this is well and good, but what does it have to do with the chocolate freaking cake on my counter?”
Well, if old Amanda ate the entire cake, one bite at a time, new Amanda is free to say, “I want to enjoy a piece of cake.” And then it’s giving myself permission to actually enjoy it.
Now listen, I don’t want you filling your house with a chocolate cake and brownies and ice cream every week. That’s not what I’m talking about.
You need to keep your goals in front of you and you need to eat to feel strong. That’s the end goal, remember? Eat to feel strong.
Allow Yourself to Enjoy Food
And that is the shift. It’s all in the word “allowing.”
You are going to allow yourself to enjoy a small slice of cake. Instead of eating the entire cake off the platter one bite at a time, you’re going to cut a slice, you’re going to sit down at the table with a pretty plate and a fork, and you’re going to slowly savor every bite of the slice of cake.
Think of how different this method is compared to the one.little.bite method we talked about earlier.
Did you enjoy every one of those bites? No! You stuffed them in your mouth as you walked by and gulped and swallowed as you did other things. You could eat a whole cake without enjoying and savoring a single bite.
But now, we are going to savor each bite.
We are going to pay attention to the taste. We are going to be mindful of when we feel satisfied, when we’ve had enough.
No more mindless stuffing our faces with bite after bite, even as we are distracted with a million other things.
This is mindful eating.
And the brain loves it. The brain isn’t afraid now of starving or of not having enough. Instead, your brain is happy and feeling satisfied. And it can go on about its business of keeping you safe and happy.
Remember the 80/20 Rule
We are always shooting for that 80/20 rule. Enjoying the 20% that may not be the most nutrient-dense food in the world allows you to be a peace with the 80% that is.
I want you to be at peace with both the 80% and the 20%.
Remember, neither of them is bad or good. They are simply food, and you get to decide what to enjoy and what makes you feel strong.
One of the best things about slowing down and thinking about these things is that you get to know yourself better and you listen to outside influences less.
You have the answers inside yourself to have a healthy relationship with food. The question is, are you ready to listen?
There may be many layers of this onion that you have to peel back before you get to all the root causes. If you don’t know where to start, I am here to help.
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