The Honeymoon Phase of Dieting

Ah to be madly in love, or perhaps we are just excited to be having regular sex? We all know the feelings of euphoria and fawning when you first start dating someone or when you first get married.

It seems like everything is rainbows and unicorns. Your heart flutters when you see them. You tell your friends about them. You start planning your future together. And their red flags could be like a 2×4 to your face, but it doesn’t matter because the rush of oxytocin and dopamine ensures you maintain a lobotomized state of ambivalence. 

We have all been there, the honeymoon phase of any new relationship; your partner can do no wrong, and all their annoying quirks are ‘cute.’

However, as the honeymoon phase begins to fade, your brain decides to down-regulate your levels of oxytocin and dopamine, and suddenly, their messy car, dishes in the sink, and the fact that they own a cat is no longer cute. Sorry to the cat lovers out there, but they are the Bane to my Batman, and I am almost certain it will be a cat that brings on my demise. 

So a honeymoon is like the initial results of weight-loss? 

The point I am trying to make here is that people go through the same flood of emotions and stupidity when they start the latest diet trend or fad. It begins with a burst of motivation and a sense of hope – ‘this will be the time I finally lose weight and keep the weight off for good!’ 

This motivation and sense of hope come from knowing a friend who started X program and has lost a ton of weight, or they read a book by a certain nephrologist that simplifies and compellingly misinterprets the science around weight-loss, providing a simpler solution to fixing it, such as cutting out carbs or fasting for 83 hours/week.

I see a similar pattern when individuals start a new weight management medication such as Saxenda, Ozempic or Contrave.

But I love to succeed; more faster more better!

They harness this motivation and hope to make some significant changes in their life. For example, they might buy some new gym clothes, sit down to create a meal plan, remove all junk food from the house, start food prepping, etc. All in preparation for the big day (usually a Monday) where they will kick off the beginning of the new them. Monday comes, they get started, and within the first week, they lose 5lbs. 

‘Holy sh*t! I lost 5lbs. This is crazy! X plan actually works.’ 

Their motivation becomes stronger, and they double down on their efforts, and in week two, they are down another 2lbs! 

‘F*ck ya! We are doing it!’

Again the same pattern gets reinforced: 

Restrict carbs, fast, etc. → Number on scale goes down → Hit of dopamine → Restrict further → Repeat

During this time, they might have the occasional craving or pang of hunger but are unfazed or even cave to the craving; they get back on track because they know the diet or plan they are following now works and will work forever! They even start saying silly things like cauliflower pizza tastes better than the actual thing. I find it remarkable how much resilience humans have when things are going well!

BUT like the honeymoon phase in a relationship, eventually, the novelty starts to wear off. In the case of weight-loss, the number on the scale starts slowing down and eventually stops. 

I don’t want the happiness (and results) to stop. 

It always stops. 

Remember that pattern from above?  

Restrict carbs, fast, etc. → Number on scale goes down → Hit of dopamine → Restrict further → Repeat 

No movement on the scale means no hit of dopamine. Which means no reward. And as much as we like to think we are a special and advanced mammalian species, at our core, we are animals. We are hedonic pleasure-seeking beings. So if something does not bring us pleasure or help us to avoid pain, we don’t want it. Everyone knows Pavlov’s dog, right? 

And let’s be real here. Eating highly processed foods full of sugar, fat, and salt is way better than not. These foods have been engineered to light up the reward center of your brain like crack/cocaine. So given the choice between staying on a keto diet with no reward or having a chocolate cake orgasm in your mouth, what do you think your brain is going to choose?

I know; it turns out that cauliflower pizza does kinda taste like cardboard. 

Eventually, you will reach a breaking point. Your cravings or hunger will get the best of you. You might binge, or a cheat meal will turn into a cheat week, then into a cheat month, which turns into, ‘Oh sh*t, we are eating like we used to.’ 

Now, none of this is your fault – so stop blaming yourself! 

My actions + my results ≠ not my fault? 

You are simply trying to fight 30,000 years of biology, and biology wins every time. The purpose of the animal part of our brain and physiology is to keep us alive. It does that through a highly tuned reward system that is focused on ensuring you live the next 5 mins. It does not give a sh*t if you try to look good for your cousin’s wedding. If we were hungry or losing weight 30,000 years ago, it would have meant that food was scarce and death was a very real possibility. 

The honeymoon phase blinds us to reality – when we are making progress or the sex is amazing, it is easy to ignore the red flags. A vast majority of diets and plans throughout history are unsustainable for the reasons I have discussed above. While we are in the honeymoon phase, we can slog it out and enjoy lettuce wrap Tuesdays instead of taco Tuesdays. 

However, once the honeymoon phase wears off, reality sets in and biology takes over. Unless, we can find a more sustainable and realistic approach. 

In next week’s blog post, we’ll discuss this possible approach. Come to think of it, one of my red flags might be the pleasure I get from leaving y’all on a cliffhanger. Take the edge off by signing up for my weekly newsletter; you’ll learn of new content before anyone else! 

Stay tuned for part 2, and until next time you beautiful people, always remember small tweaks lead to massive peaks. 

-Dr. Dan 

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