Horrible… I feel like shit – both, mentally and physically. To make my bitching and complaining more constructive, let’s look at the numbers:
To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. Alright, sentimental things aside – what exactly happened?
Monday->Tuesday->Wednesday-> Thursday – four days I’ve been a good boy. All I was eating was meat and salads. I set caloric intake to 1,500 calories/day, which I kept up with from Monday until Thursday. The reason for cutting calories was my body weight measurement on Monday – 75.4 kg. This number made me upset because it’s been three weeks and I’ve lost only 1 kg. I got mad, so I cut the calories down to 1,500.
It wasn’t easy. I started having serious cravings on Thursday. They became very profound later in the evening, however I managed not to slip off the diet. The following day – on Friday, I slipped. I was binging on donuts, pizzas and chocolates… It was ridiculous and disgusting. Enough! The next morning I woke up feeling like shit. I went straight to the lake, to do the ice dip and refresh. Of course I got pretty cold and it took me about two hours to bring my core temperature back to norm. I then fasted until 2 pm.
Right before going to the gym I thought I would have a bid of oatmeal. I thought that I needed it to get a bit of energy. I binged again… I couldn’t stop eating. Started with oatmeal and ended up with a full box of donuts at 7-Eleven. Unbelievable…
What did I learn?
1,500 calories/day is tough. I can comfortably endure about three days of it. Anything longer and I get into the red zone – playing with fire. What if strategically introduced the refeed? Every fourth day – 1,500 calories of carbs. I will do three days of low carbs at 1,500 calories/day, then one day of refeed – 2,500 calories of complex carbohydrates. The following day 1,500 of carbs. Then back to three days of 1,500 cals low carb.
This is the experiment. I am looking for something sustainable, that will work for ME.
SELF-CONTROL, MENTAL FATIGUE & EGO DEPLETION
Why is it so much harder to resist temptations and control cravings later in the day vs mornings? I have no problems skipping breakfast, even when I am hungry, but it’s almost impossible to resist the binge in the evening. Why and is it something that I can change?
As always, the first place to search for the answers is science:
“A number of hypotheses on the mechanisms of mental fatigue origin (including self-control) have been proposed. Some of these hypotheses argue that during prolonged mental exercise, self-control resources are exhausted activities of executive function and decision-making are impaired, and inhibiting processes appear in the brain”, ().
Reference: Terentjeviene, A., Maciuleviciene, E., Vadopalas, K., Mickeviciene, D., Karanauskiene, D., & Valanciene, D. et al. (2018). Prefrontal Cortex Activity Predicts Mental Fatigue in Young and Elderly Men During a 2 h “Go/NoGo” Task. Frontiers In Neuroscience, 12. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2018.00620
Self-control appeared to deteriorate over time from repeated exertions, such as decision-making. Just as the brain and body are muscles that can wear out with excessive use, self-control and willpower are also subject to exhaustion. As we make decision after decision, we drain our ability to control our impulses. Experiments have shown the interrelationship between decision fatigue and ego depletion, whereby a person’s ability for self-control against impulses decreases in the face of decision fatigue.
Ego depletion refers to the idea that self-control or willpower draws upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up. When the energy for mental activity is low, self-control is typically impaired, which would be considered a state of ego depletion. In particular, experiencing a state of ego depletion impairs the ability to control oneself. This is interesting… I get the idea, however my question is: How do I replenish the “ego energy pool”? Let’s dig deeper.
“The role of glucose as a specific form of energy needed for self-control has been explored by researchers. Glucose, a sugar found in many foods, is the primary fuel for the body and the brain. Multiple experiments have connected self-control depletion to reduced blood glucose, and suggested that self-control performance could be replenished by consuming glucose.” What this means is that by eating something sweet, I increase my chances of resisting that donut in the evening.
“Several recent experiments have found that resource depletion effects can be reversed by simply tasting (but not swallowing or consuming) sweet beverages, which can have rewarding properties. Others have suggested that the taste of sugar (but not artificial sweetener) has psycho-physiological signaling effects.”
What are the implications of ego fatigue on people who diet?
There was an experiment that demonstrated how ego depletion is particularly relevant when considering chronic dieters compared to non-dieters. Chronic dieters constantly work at resisting their cravings and limiting their food intake. Scientists showed that the task of regulating food intake could be undermined in the face of tempting snacks, especially when the individual was experiencing a state of ego depletion. Both dieters and non-dieters attempted to suppress their emotional responses while watching a movie. Afterwards, participants were required to consume ice cream in order to engage in a taste-test.
“The major finding was that dieters who suppressed their emotional responses to the movie experienced more ego depletion than those who were not required to suppress their emotions. Additionally, those individuals subsequently ate much more ice cream in the taste-testing task. Non-dieters did not show the same self-regulatory failures as dieters in these tasks. Therefore, it seems that the act of dieting itself is a form of resource expenditure. Dieters spend so much energy trying to limit their food intake, but these efforts are likely to be undermined when faced with overwhelming temptation.”
This makes perfect sense. You might spend all day diligently sticking to your diet. You eat a healthy breakfast and lunch, and even resist the sweet snacks that a coworker brings into the office. That night, as you arrive home from work, you find that your resolve has grown weak and you no longer have the self-control to stick to your diet. Because you have expended so much mental energy throughout the day resisting the urge to indulge, you have reached a state of ego depletion by dinner time. Instead of eating the healthy meal you planned, you order take-out from your favorite fast-food restaurant and spend the evening watching TV and snacking on chips. Exhausting self-control on unrelated tasks might then make it more difficult to say no when temptation strikes.
Back to my question – What can I do about it? How can I use this knowledge to make my weight-loss easier?
Positive Mood! “In a recent experiment, it was shown that inducing a positive mood can buffer the impairing effects of ego depletion on subsequent performance. Positive mood was induced by getting individuals to watch comedy videos or by giving them a surprise gift. Positive mood seemed to allow people to recover faster from ego depletion and furthermore, improved their ability to self-regulate.” Positive attitude is just a way to counteract ego depletion after a person is depleted. In some studies, ego depleted participants who had their moods boosted by watching comedy films actually performed just as well on self-control tasks as non-ego depleted participants.
Prioritize Sleep. Sleep resets your self-control and provides you with the mental energy needed to have willpower throughout the day. Similarly, lack of sleep makes self-control more difficult. Think about how much harder it is to resist junk food when you’re sleep deprived than when you have a good night’s rest.
Food. Early studies on ego-depletion suggested that the whole mechanism of ego-depletion is based on glucose: self-control or decision-making uses up glucose and after a while the shortage of glucose leads to ego-depletion. These studies found, for example, that ego-depletion could be reversed if people drank lemonade with sugar during challenging tasks. This suggested that effortful thinking uses up glucose. Other, more recent studies show that merely rinsing one’s mouth with a glucose drink is enough to strengthen self-control. In these studies, participants did not swallow the drink; merely rinsing the mouth also did not increase blood glucose. The likely explanation is that carbohydrates, even if merely sensed and not swallowed, activate dopamine pathways in striatum, a brain region associated with rewards. So carbohydrates probably reverse ego-depletion because they increase people’s motivation and not because of their metabolic effects.
So food is crucial for restoring ego strength, and carbohydrates play the leading role. When it comes to carbohydrates, there are two basic types: simple and complex. Simple Carbs for Ego Strength. If glucose drinks reduce ego-depletion because they activate brain reward circuits, then simple carbohydrates should work better because their sweet taste is more rewarding. In short, it means that probably it is best to use foods that get their sweetness from fruits, honey, or table sugar. Yet, don’t rely on foods that get their sweet taste from artificial sweeteners —studies mentioned just above found that mouth rinses with artificial sweeteners had no effect.
What Will I do Differently?
- 1,500 calories/day (low carb <100g) x 3 days
- Refeed every 4-th day: 2,500 calories (high carbohydrate day 300g+/no fat)
- Sleep more: 9 hr min. Whenever have cravings – take a nap
- Whenever find it hard to resist temptations – try rinsing the mouth with Gatorade (or similar)