Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cupcakes Don't Cause Weight Gain.

It's Not What You Eat, It's What You Think About What You Eat. 

Strategies for preventing binging, compulsive eating and overeating, as promised.

"It makes no sense, Of course it's about what I eat! It can't be that eating cupcakes doesn't effect my weight!"

Truth be told, cupcakes don't make you fat. But your reaction, your thoughts about eating cupcakes can. Follow this.

You get hungry and eat a cupcake. But in your mind, having a cupcake equals "ruining it", "slipping", "being bad". So what happens? There are a couple of paths you might go down.

     1) Because you think you blew it, the "What the heck effect" occurs.  You think "What the heck, I already ruined it, I may as well keep going". And so you do. You eat anything, in any amounts, without regard for your hunger or need. And, I might add, you're neither tasting nor enjoying the food you're eating, even if it is food you've longed for. It can be very destructive eating, even having a bit of a self-punishment feel to it.

     The calories from the single item--cupcake, cookies, chocolate, etc--really don't make a dent in your weight.  It takes 3,500 surplus calories to gain a single pound. That's right. Three thousand five hundred calories extra, over and above your calorie requirement to maintain your weight. So let's say, for example, you needed 1800 calories per day to maintain your weight, and you had a snack that you saw as forbidden, unacceptable for managing your weight. The impact of that item would be insignificant, not even measurable on the scale, whatever it is. But what if your thinking tells you you've already ruined your day's eating, what happens? One cupcake may turn into 4 or 5 and that's likely to be a problem.

     2) You may decide after eating cookies that you'll restrict or compensate at your next meal or snack or even the next day. But later you find yourself starving, with little control over your food choices and portions. And so you overeat. Either pattern may continue--restrictive thinking, and serious overeating and more restricting. Or restrictive thinking and overeating, feeling bad, and more overeating.

That is, unless you change your thinking.

What you need to do is move foods from the "forbidden" to the "acceptable" category, to give your self permission to eat them.
There are many books that approach eating this way, discussing this "non-diet" approach. But a few cautions.

     1) Start legalizing only 1 food item at a time. Faced with many "forbidden" foods we get overwhelmed and will struggle more with this approach.

     2) Be sure you truly give yourself permission to eat and enjoy what you are eating!

     3) Keep a second package in reserve. If you're going to start with a yummy chocolate, for instance, have a second bar as back up. Why? Because it will reassure you that you will not run out. Then buy another bar when you have finished the first. This helps you move from feeling that it's now or never for eating chocolate, that after today, it's back to the old rules, which gets you back to the destructive eating pattern.

     4) Take away visual temptation. Simply move food items out of view, off the counters, and away from being the first items you see when you open a cabinet. This allows you to resist the mindless eating triggered by the inviting appearance of food. If you want the brownies, you can find them wrapped up in the freezer, or in an opaque container in the cabinet. But at least you'll be eating them because you chose to!

Cupcakes in photo are from Cupcake Cafe, NYC. Truly the best cupcakes I've ever had (amazing buttercream frosting!). And Chocolove chocolates are a favorite of mine (but they have no nutritional advantage over any others--they simply taste great!) 



  1. I have the opposite problem to this: I always feel like I need to finish it all. If I buy a candy bar, make a pie, etc. even though I know logically how much a serving should be, I fear that if I don't eat it all as soon as I can, it will spoil and be wasted. This isn't an irrational fear-- I have an aversion to leftovers of any kind. Either I save them only to find them weeks later when they start to smell, because I'd completely forgotten about them, or I simply have no desire to eat the same thing again for a month or more. My solution is to always eat it all, unless I am already completely stuffed. I know this is a bad idea, but I have a serious fear of wasting food. The only remedy I've found for this is only buying single portions when possible (which usually isn't, since a "single portion" of most packaged food is actually more like a double or triple portion, and I haven't found ANY true single portion recipes for cooking).

  2. Perhaps it can help acknowledging that eating a whole pie is equally wasteful as letting it spoil! Also, consider freezing leftovers and reheating which can preserve the quality and make leftovers more appealing. Then, your thinking can change from having to "eat it all now or it'll be wasted", to "I can always have some later when I need it". Really, the thinking is the same as described in the post, the "now or never" eating. But yours is driven by fearing the spoilage, and others might be driven by their own rules that they'll be on a diet tomorrow.

  3. eating a lot doesn't effect your workout if you only eat food enough to fill your empty stomach. holding yourself to eat foods to want may cause you to eat more. letting yourself enjoy the foods you want can also help you by staying happy and be content.

  4. Good point--happy and content is a goal to be achieved in addition to a reasonable weight!

  5. I agree with Dr. Eric can eat whatever you want...just have a limit to it all..remember you live eat all the food you like just in smaller portions...I love this post you are absolutely correct....and Happy St. Patrick's Days I just had a cupcake... hehehe but I'll work out later after work...

  6. This is really interesting. I'm well and truly stuck in the restriction, binging, restriction, binging pattern and have been most of my life. The only time I wasn't stuck in this pattern was when I was pregnant, as at that time I allowed myself the freedom to eat whatever I wanted! (And amazingly only gained 7kg (around 14/15lb) during the entire pregnancy).
    But I digress. Over Easter, there is usually an abundance of chocolate in the house thanks to some very generous relatives. So at Easter time, there is so much chocolate here I don't really feel the urge to eat it. It sits in the fridge for months as I only eat small amounts every now and then. However, during the rest of the year, I generally try to avoid having chocolate in the house. And during that time, I can't stop craving it. And when I do 'slip' and eat it, I usually have too much.