What is Last Supper Eating?
In the intuitive eating process we often talk about Last Supper Eating. What is that you ask?
Last Supper eating looks something like this:
Sally hears about a ____ diet (e.g. low-carb) and decides: “I want to be healthy! Starting tomorrow I’m gonna cut out carbs.”
Sally packs up her carby foods. Then she figures she may as well enjoy some today since she’s never going to eat them ever again. She eats lots and lots of carbs, feels stuffed, and says “Good thing tomorrow I’m not eating carbs anymore- clearly I can’t be trusted around them!”
That was Sally’s Last Supper of Carbs.
So she starts the low carb thing and for a while it’s great! She feels virtuous and proud of her self-discipline. She feels healthy.
Then things get harder. She starts to feel like she’s always hungry and thinking about food. It gets more challenging to resist eating carbs when she’s around other people. She feels anxious about holiday dinners where carbs will be served.
“Okay,” says Sally, “Maybe I’ll let myself eat carbs at this one holiday event, and then the next day I’ll go back to not eating them.”
So at the holiday dinner she gives herself temporary carb permission, loads up her plate with all the forbidden foods. She feels stuffed and sick and shameful. “It’s a good thing I don’t usually eat carbs because CLEARLY I can’t be trusted with them,” she thinks.
That was also Sally’s Last Supper of Carbs.
But this keeps happening. Birthdays, special events, holidays, travel, and even just slightly upsetting days turn into reasons to temporarily eat carbs, all of which feel like the last supper, all of which lead her to eating more than feels physically good, which leads to the feeling that she can’t be trusted and needs to hunker down further in the safety of rules.
You see the cycle?
This is the cycle of restriction:
Make a food off limits
That food gets elevated to special forbidden status
Binge on that food one last time (aka the last supper)
Believe that you can’t be trusted around that food
Double down on making it off limits
This cycle is also available in the “Light” version:
Someone decides to try to eat less of a food
That food STILL gets elevated to special forbidden-ish exciting status
When that food is around they get a little preoccupied with it and wonder, “Is this okay to eat? Have I eaten too much of this recently?"
They likely eat more of that food than intended because it’s special
Feel shame, wonder if it’s about a lack of control.
Swear to do better next time
To be clear: there is NOTHING wrong or shameful about Sally (or any of us!) whatsoever. This is how our bodies work.
The only way to throw a wrench in that cycle is to truly give yourself permission. Full permission. Not temporary permission. Not permission with guilt. Full permission. Then the cycle starts going like this:
Cycle of Trust:
Give self FULL PERMISSION to eat and enjoy food
Probably eat a lot of previously forbidden foods
Remove extra special forbidden status from the food
Realize that food is just food and that it’s nice to enjoy it
Start to trust yourself to eat in ways that feel good
Learn to eat with attunement more and more
Learn to live with attunement more and more- i.e. trusting yourself with other decisions, not just food
This is the cycle of habituation and self-trust. Yes these images are a little oversimplified and not exactly a cycle, but this is the the basic idea: give permission, habituate, build trust, repeat.
And that’s what intuitive eating is: learning to listen and trust.
It’s hard. It’s an emotional shift that takes time and intentionality. But it is something our bodies know how to do. And I'm here for you if you don't want to do it alone.
If you're curious about starting 2022 off on the body liberation path, you might be interested in the New Year introductory package.
This blog is based on concepts from Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch (and from personal experience. Yup- I've been there!).