Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Extinction Bursts

Why dieting is so hard, and why giving in to your inner two year old is the absolute worst thing you can do: http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/07/07/extinction-burst/http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/07/07/extinction-burst/

This is pretty much the meat of the nut, although the whole article is worth the read:

"So, back to that diet.

You eliminate a reward from your life: awesome and delicious high-calorie foods. Right as you are ready to give it up forever, an extinction burst threatens to demolish your willpower.

You become like a two-year-old in a conniption fit, and like the child, if you give in to the demands, the behavior will be strengthened.

Compulsive overeating is a frenzied state of mind, food addiction under pressure until it bursts.

Diets fail for many reasons, much of them associated with your body trying to survive in a situation where surviving starvation is much less of an issue.

To give up overeating, or smoking, or gambling, or “World of Warcraft,” or any bad habit which was formed through conditioning, you must be prepared to weather the secret weapon of your unconscious – the extinction burst.

Become your own Supernanny, your own Dog Whisperer. Look for alternative rewards and positive reinforcement. Set goals, and when you achieve them, shower yourself with garlands of your choosing.

Don’t freak out when it turns out to be difficult. Habits form because you are not so smart, and they cease under the same conditions."
This is why I don't like "diets." As any of you know who read my blog regularly, I believe that dramatic changes to your regular eating habits are unsustainable. If you normally eat 2,200 calories a day of fat laden food and suddenly switch to 1,600 calories of nothing but raw vegetables, your body essentially says "what the fuck" and revolts. The "revolt" is the extinction burst described in the above article. Your diet ends in a catastrophic binge because your body normally accustomed to the "reward" of 2,200 calories a day of high fat food essentially got pissed off when you took it away from it and had a little tantrum.

Instead of a "diet," focus on making small, gradual changes to your eating habits that you'll sustain for life. Start by cutting back maybe 50 calories a day by substituting some grapes for that bag of potato chips you normally have around 3 pm, and start doing a little exercise. After a week or two, cut back on more calories, and have a salad instead of a burger for lunch twice a week.

Keep adding small changes over time and exercising more, and the weight will come off and stay off.
By making gradual changes, you short-circuit your body's desire to have an "extinction burst" and up the chances that you'll have a permanent improvement in your overall health.

No, you won't lose 30 pounds in a month, but you may lose 30 pounds in a year.

And, in the end, the 30 pounds lost in that one year will lead to overall better habits that means you won't have to worry about going on that "diet" to lose 30 pounds again.


  1. Huh ? Extinction burst ? Thank you, the funniest thing I have ever read on a blog so far. I laughed so hard, I peed.... You meant this as a joke right, You can't be serious...

  2. No. No joke. It's the term used in the article.

  3. Cool...thanks for posting. Dreaming of thinner thighs keeps me from giving into my inner two year old :)

  4. This is so true, great article. I was blogging about this issue a few weeks ago, my husband (who has jumped on the bandwagon and started losing weight with me) had a real issue with that inner child. I essentially told him he needed to stop giving into it's tantrums.

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