The “What the hell” effect (or “counterregulatory behaviour”) is a term coined by psychology, eating and dieting experts Janet Polivy, PhD., FRSC and C. Peter Herman. The phenomenon describes a cycle of indulgence, regret or shame, more indulgence, more regret or shame, and so on.
For instance, when we have a goal – say to eat healthy – but slip up, it can make us feel justified in abandoning the goal for the day.
Dr. Janet Polivy describes what the hell as: “What the hell, my diet’s already broken, so I might as well eat everything in sight.”
Dr. Janet Polivy also coined the term “False Hope Syndrome” (or “false hope”) relating to dieting and body image, which is caused by unrealistic expectations specifically due to misleading advertisement.
False hope relates to those who commit to strict diets but end up sneaking food and overeating.
While what the hell and false hope focus on things that are in our control. There are numerous other diet and health blindspots and slip-ups that go without the hollow cry of anguish, “what the hell,” or pity of false hope.
High calorie food and refined sugars that we can be oblivious to range from snacks to salad dressings, sauces, toppings and ready to eat foods as well as drinks.
The problem of hidden sugars is highlighted in a 2015/16, Public Health England report that called for a 20% reduction in the amount of sugar in food products by 2020 (allowing for naturally occurring lactose).
In December 2016, the Royal College of Surgeons, faculty of dental surgeons published a statement on combatting “cake culture”: reducing excessive sugar consumption in the workplace.
In January 2019, Public Health England published a supplementary report on drinks, with a particular focus on fermented (yogurt) drinks – calling for a 20% sugar reduction by 2021.
Detailed progress reports by Public Health England will be published annually starting this year and until 2022.
At the time of the reports, it was estimated that 62% of adults in England are either obese or overweight and many thousands of over 18s are admitted to hospital each year because of tooth decay – with high cost implications for the NHS.
Small steps that can mitigate hell, false hope and being blindsided as well as improve overall health include:
- Be aware of what you eat during the day – Keep a food diary or use an app such as MyFitnessPal or NHS approved OurPath to track consumption, hit nutrition goals and moderate treats and refined sugar.
- Take action to reduce excessive sugar consumption – i.e. only have cake or treats around meal times or make substitutions to factor anomalies into your diet.
- Take a long term view and focus on the bigger picture to achieve balance – breaking a diet for a moment or day should not lead to regret, or retreating to what the hell. Avoid rapid weight loss plans, short-term and highly restrictive diets – focus on healthy eating and habits that last a lifetime.
- Think about what foods you can add to your diet rather than remove – adding high volume plant based foods and protein to your diet will leave you satiated and naturally reduce cravings for food containing hidden calories and sugar.
- Avoid peer pressure associated with “cake culture” – easy but not simple. Challenge the office cake makers and feeders to upskill their mixing bowl expertise or provide nutrition labels on treats.
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“If you are going through hell, keep going”Winston Churchill