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End the Binge and Restrict Cycle

awareness calorie restriction dieting dieting research failure fixed mindset indulgence mindful mindset psychology restriction self awareness self compassion self control what the hell effect Apr 10, 2020


Please note: the word "binge" in this blog post is in reference to "overeating" and not clinical binge eating or binge eating disorder. Please see THIS POST for further clarification between the two.


You have a health and fitness goal that you’re trying to achieve, but you keep finding yourself in a cycle of indulgence and regret. A major part of this  cycle is something termed in the research as the “what the hell effect.”

Rather than indulging and feeling guilty about enjoying a glass of wine, you need to find a balance to achieve your fitness goals—otherwise, the what the hell effect will set back your progress. 


The What the Hell Effect


So how does the what the hell effect work?

Giving in to temptation makes you feel bad, which motivates you to do something to feel better.

And what’s the fastest way to feel better?⁣

Often the very thing you feel bad about


“Just a small handful of cereal”⁣ quickly turns into eating to the bottom of the box.⁣

“Just a little more wine,”⁣ and you find yourself drinking four more glasses than intended.⁣

Then you go through the narrative of “I already messed up, so what the hell—I might as well really enjoy myself.”⁣

Does any of this sound familiar?

Here’s the thing, giving in and enjoying a treat doesn’t ruin you.⁣ But the feelings that follow might.⁣

I’m talking about shame and guilt.⁣ Loss of control and hope.⁣

The what the hell cycle of giving in then going all out just to feel terrible and seeking comfort by giving in again is extremely common, especially for those following restrictive practices. 


Research on Restrictive Dieting


Pollvy and Herman (1985) looked at the perception of calories and eating restraint. They split 91 people into two groups based on their current dieting behaviors.

The first group had low restraint, meaning they were not dieting or restricting their calories. 

The second group had high restraint, meaning they were dieting or restricting their calories. 

Both groups first completed a fake taste test of 4oz of pudding and were later instructed to eat as many sandwiches as they needed in order to accurately assess the taste. 

Each person was randomly assigned to one of four conditions:


  1. TRUE high calorie
    These people were told the pudding was high in calories, and it actually was.
  2. TRUE low calorie
    These people were told that the pudding was low in calories, and it actually was. 
  3. FAKE high calorie
    These people were told that the pudding was high in calories, and it was not.
  4. FAKE low calorie
    These people were told that the pudding was low in calories, and it was not.


Participants we deceivingly told this was a physiological experiment so the researchers could gather accurate data, so the participants did 15 minutes of light exercise and a taste test assessment and then were given the plate of sandwiches. 


Study Results:


Those who were not dieting showed no significant difference in the number of sandwiches eaten, regardless of whether they believed the pudding was high or low in calories. 

Those who were dieting ate nearly twice as many sandwiches when they believed the pudding they previously ate was low-calorie (regardless of whether it actually was). 

This study shows that your perception can be more powerful than reality. 


Avoid the What the Hell Trap


You can avoid the what the hell trap by working on self-awareness. 

Some things to think about are:


  • How do you handle self-control failures?
  • Do you use it as a chance for further indulgence?
  • Do you see it as an indication that you’ll never change and that something must be wrong with you?


And the cycle-breaking solution, according to the research?⁣

Less restriction, more self-awareness, and more self-compassion.⁣

This just so happens to be how we do it at KJO Coaching.

So if you’re looking to shift your mindset and end the binge and restrict cycle, apply to work with us HERE.

Check out my original post here.


Connect with us!

Email: [email protected]

IG: @coachkaseyjo @kjocoaching



Polivy, J., & Herman, C. P. (1985). Dieting and binging: A causal analysis. American psychologist, 40(2), 193.

Hi, I'm Kasey!

I coach, mentor, write, and teach with one main focus: Build strong bodies and healthy lifestyles, starting with your mindset.


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