We’ve all been there – promising ourselves we’re going to start eating healthfully tomorrow, or Monday, or the beginning of the next month or year. We set a specific date and vow that we’re going to start fresh, that we mean it this time, that things will be different and we’ll finally see the results we want. And then in preparation for this date we stuff our faces full of every item on the “NO” list of our diet.
French fries and cupcakes and junk food, oh my! We sprint towards our favorite comfort foods with open mouths, silently screaming “Get in my belly!” After we’ve eaten ourselves into a food coma, we shrug helplessly. What could we do, after all? We just needed to eat that Last Meal before the descent into the endless deprivation of dieting. Wrong!!! The Last Meal is killing our chances at being healthy, and today we’re going to look at five reasons why.
Reason Number 1: We’re “dieting,” not making lifestyle changes.
The concept of dieting is generally built around deprivation. We list the foods we can’t have anymore and pledge to avoid them for a certain amount of time until we lose weight or see results. The diet model is built on “CAN’T” instead of “WON’T.” For example, if my diet does not allow me to eat cheeseburgers, but I’m out at a restaurant with friends that are ordering the juiciest, cheesiest grease bombs on the menu, I will be likely to say something like “I can’t eat that, I’m on a diet.” I want the burger, but I can’t have it. Now I’m sad, my friends feel sorry for poor deprived me, and I go to sleep that night dreaming about the dinner I didn’t get to eat.
When we diet, The Last Meal becomes extremely important to us. We convince ourselves that we need this particular food because we “CAN’T” have it anymore. Changing the focus from “CAN’T” to “WON’T” takes some of the pressure off. Lifestyle changes are important because they affect how we approach the world, not just specific meals. If I no longer eat cheeseburgers, it is because I have made a personal choice to embrace something that is worth more than a cheeseburger – health. In the same scenario at the restaurant, I will say something like “I don’t eat that.” And that’s it! No further explanation is necessary. The choice belonged to me, I did not pawn it off on some vague diet concept that restricts my food intake. I no longer eat cheeseburgers because it’s not part of my food identity. I “DON’T” eat them, because that’s not who I am anymore.
Reason Number 2: We start “tomorrow” instead of right now.
It can be helpful to have a specific date that your lifestyle changes will begin. You may need to go shopping and stock up on healthier options. You may need to prepare your family for new foods by educating them before changing all their meals. You might need to go through your pantry and discard all the processed foods. A specific date can give you something to work towards and be motivating. However, “tomorrow” is generally just an excuse to continue unhealthy habits today. We say we’ll start Monday because we want to gobble up mountains of sugar, salt, and fat on the weekend. Instead of cleaning out the pantry with a trash bag, we “clean” by eating all the processed food it holds, so it “won’t go to waste.”
When you start your diet tomorrow, The Last Meal is easily justified. After all, you’re just going to “make up for it” by eating vegetables on Monday! Don’t start tomorrow. Start NOW. With your next bite. Make the healthiest choice you can immediately. Doing this will take away some of the power The Last Meal has over you. You don’t need a final hurrah, because you’ve already started making changes!
Reason Number 3: We get emotional about comfort food.
Comfort food lives up to its name, at least in theory. When we’re feeling sad, stressed, or angry, a bowl of ice cream or a bag of chips makes us feel better. There’s an entire science behind how specific (unhealthy) foods trigger pleasure receptors in your brain. The food manufacturers know this, which is why processed food is loaded with salt, sugar, and fat – three items that put us on cloud 9 emotionally. But it doesn’t last! If you’ve woken up the morning after a binge session with food and looked in the mirror, you know that your problems are still there. The food didn’t make your issues go away. The food high wears off and leaves us craving more unhealthy food. And worst of all, we have to deal with our guilt over our lack of willpower.
The Last Meal is almost always comprised of foods that make us feel a certain way emotionally. We mistakenly assume that because we are now choosing to avoid certain foods, we will have nothing to soothe us when we’re feeling low. We gobble up our personal comfort grub at The Last Meal, trying to hold on to the way it makes us feel. Doing this only reinforces our incorrect belief that lasting tranquillity comes from food, instead of more beneficial practices such as exercise, meditation, or relaxation tasks like coloring.
Reason Number 4: We eat WAY too many calories at The Last Meal.
As we discussed above, our brains don’t like the deprivation model. When we think we “CAN’T” have certain foods anymore, we eat them to excess before making changes. The night before we start eating more healthfully, we tend to consume thousands of calories. Yes, thousands. Where we normally might consume a sandwich and a small handful of chips, at The Last Meal we take down a foot long sub, an entire bag of chips, and an extra large soda. And then we throw in a chocolate bar or cake slice for good measure!
Unless you’re a mega athlete in the middle of an intense training program, there is no reason to eat that many calories in one sitting. Eating more doesn’t help you hang on to the emotional “high” of your food longer. It just makes it harder to start fresh the next morning, because your body is still struggling with the poisons it was stuffed with the night before. I advocate not having a last meal at all, but if you do, make sure that you eat very slowly. Chew your food. Eat with friends, not by yourself in front of the TV. This will ensure you eat a reasonable amount of food and that your body has enough time to signal you that it is full. (These eating tips go for any meal!)
Reason Number 5: The cravings only get worse when you feed them.
If you eat salt, sugar, and fat, you will crave salt, sugar and fat. The more you eat them, the more your body will scream for them, just like the old saying “I scream; you scream; we all scream for ice cream!!” If you start your morning with junk food, you will crave junk food the rest of the day. Your body is addicted to processed food and it takes time to break the desire for more.
The Last Meal overloads your body with junk food, sabotaging your efforts the next morning. To break a craving, you have to stop eating that food. The more you eat, the more you want to eat. It can feel like your mind is screeching at you, shaking you and dragging you towards the unhealthy food. Resist. Take a walk. Meditate for a few minutes. Drink 8 ounces of water. Distract yourself. Distraction is easier than saying “NO.” If you can distract yourself the craving will likely subside, at least for a little while.
The plant-based, vegan lifestyle is not a diet. It’s a way of approaching food, the world, and our own bodies. We don’t diet. We eat according to our goals. The Last Meal gets in the way of our goals, and it sabotages us before we even begin! We don’t need a last hurrah for the processed crap that is ruining our bodies. Start now, with your next bite. Better health is waiting for you!