The what the hell effect


Have you ever told yourself you’re going to eat well but moments later you’re stuffing your face? Yeah? Let me guess, a lot of times something triggered it. You were going to be healthy but then your friend got a promotion so you have to go out for drinks. You were going to be healthy but now it’s your mum’s birthday so you have to eat birthday cake. You get my drift? No, I’m not going to tell you off for making excuses, I’m going to tell you about the ‘what the hell effect‘ (legit psychological term).

The what the hell effect happens when we set goals for ourselves but feel like we’ve messed them up so everything goes out the window. If we diet and say we’re not going to eat any biscuits but then we eat one, your more likely to devour the packet because in your mind that line has already been crossed. You tell yourself you’ll start again tomorrow and the whole cycle starts again.

 Janet Polivy did an experiment with dieters vs non-dieters. Both groups were given pizza and cookies. The dieters were lead to believe the slice of pizza they received was bigger than the non-dieters pizza, although all slices were the same size. Both groups were then offered cookies. The results showed that the dieters ate 50% more cookies than the non-dieters because they believed they’d already blown their limit.

So are we all doomed to stuff our faces for all of eternity?

Apparently, part of the problem is short term goals. When we think of things more long term we think about all the work we’ve done to get to where we’re at now and don’t want to mess that up.

One famous example is Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics are trying to avoid drinking so they thinking about the number of days sober. It’s like they’re trying to acquire non-drinking days in the grander scheme of things.

So in relation to food, dieters can think about the number of days they’ve been good. Sure you could then count a whole day as a failure and give up but hopefully having this knowledge helps you.

A chocolate biscuit doesn’t ruin your diet, or a slice or pizza, or a cookie. What ruins your healthy eating is not focusing on the bigger picture.

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