The “What The Hell” Effect

PiggingOut1 The “What The Hell Effect” or the scientific term, counterregulatory eating, is a concept that can be found in the book, Willpower by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney. The basic premise of this concept is that you’re doing well on a diet and then you slip up and have something like a cup of ice cream. At that point you figure, “what the hell” you messed up, so you may as well have some more and completely abandon your diet for the rest of the day or possibly longer.

Many years ago I engaged in this type of eating pattern. I would say I wasn’t going to have any sugar. I did well for about a month and then I would slip up and say “what the hell” and then I would be back eating sugary items frequently for some time and then repeat the process.  So how did I solve it and how can you?

First, going on rigid diets will usually fail in the long term, so be realistic and don’t go “on” diets. When you go “on”, you go “off”. Come up with a realistic eating plan that works with your life and supports your goals. My plan, for example, is to eat pretty clean during the week and allow a little leeway (not a binge) on the weekends. That plan may not work for you, so maybe having a little treat in moderation every other day will. The key is to find something that works for you. You can always improve upon the plan over time.

Next, watch your thoughts and feelings. Notice if you’re going into the “what the hell” mindset. You want to make a conscious decision versus an unconscious reaction. Also, watch you’re not strict with your thoughts and saying, “You can’t have that!”. That will usually backfire. Know that you can have it, but it may not support what you really want most: to be healthy and to look good. And remember, just because you have a thought and a feeling doesn’t mean you have to take action.

Finally, plan ahead when life happens. There will be birthday parties, social events, emergencies, business meetings, holidays, vacations and more. They can easily be triggers for the “what the hell effect”. Don’t let these things throw you off track. If you do have an event to go to, have an eating plan before you go.  For example, you can say that you will just have 1 drink and split a dessert or have 2 drinks and a spoonful of a dessert or eat clean for that event.  Find a plan that works for you, but be sure to have a plan. And if you do slip up, no big deal, get back on track as soon as possible.