The Scientific Reason Why Your January Diet Might Backfire!

January 13, 2023

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Ever noticed that the more you try not to do something, the harder it is to resist? Well, there’s neurological proof behind it, and it could be the reason why your January diet (spoiler alert) won’t work! Here’s why… 

In 1985 Psychologist, Daniel Webber wanted to test how good the human brain was at thought suppression and after extensive testing, he found that as it turns out, we’re pretty bad at it! But that was a few decades ago, so let’s put it to the test now, you ready? Here it goes; 



What did you think about? I think I can probably guess. Well, Webber did a similar experiment and found that the participants who were told not to think of a white bear actually thought about it twice as much as participants who were told to think about a white bear. This phenomena, which he named ‘Ironic Rebound’ proved that the harder we tried to suppress a thought, the more it stuck around.

Let’s put this into context. What’s the one thing you can’t take your mind off when you’re doing everything you can to stick to your diet? Or trying to stop eating sugar after Christmas? For some reason, despite our best efforts to suppress the idea of diving head first into festive left-over chocolates and treats, it’s all we can think about! And the more we resist it, the harder it is to fight. 

Not only this, but in Webber’s experiments he found that the effects of Ironic Rebound were magnified even more when participants were tired, stressed or overwhelmed and this was because our unconscious or ‘automatic’ minds were left in the driver seat. Let me explain…

Webber’s experiment proved that trying not to think about something only makes us think about it more – the reason for this is that this process involves both our conscious minds and our unconscious minds working together. Your conscious mind (found in the prefrontal cortex) takes on the task of directing your attention towards anything other than the forbidden thought, meaning the unconscious mind is responsible for not thinking of the task. 

When you are feeling well-rested these two parts of your brain can work together quite well and you might have some success with thought suppression. The problem is, your conscious mind requires a lot of energy to run so when we’re overtired or stressed and the conscious mind starts to go offline, all our hopes of thought suppression are left with the automatic mind which, unsurprisingly, has little success on its own. 

So, how do we avoid ironic rebound and make healthy changes to our diets in January without it backfiring? 

It’s important to understand that…

The opposite of avoidance is not indulgence.

There’s a sweet spot between resisting the urge and diving straight in – I call it ‘surfing the urge’. We’re not trying to resist it, we’re not letting it swallow us whole, we’re surfing it. Here’s how it’s done…

1. Notice The Urge

Instead of actively pushing away your urge to eat a certain food or fall back into a behaviour you know won’t serve you, simply notice it. We’re not trying to suppress it (and open ourselves up to ironic rebound), or giving into it, we’re just being aware of it. 

2. Get Curious

Next, identify the thoughts and feelings that this urge is bringing up. How is it making you feel? What is it that you’re hoping the food will give you? What will it relieve? Try doing a body scan to identify where you feel the urge physically? Investigate it instead of pushing it away. 

3. Acknowledge Your Feelings

Finally, we’re going to work on relaxing into the feeling. We’re not inviting more of it in, or getting frustrated that it’s here, we’re just surfing it. Even if it’s uncomfortable. Remind yourself that these are just feelings and they don’t require any response from you and that eventually, the urge will subside!

Instead of telling yourself ‘I won’t’ statements that encourage ironic rebound, think about how you can use ‘I will statements’. For example, ‘I won’t eat sugar’ could become ‘I will eat lots of satisfying, filling meals and prepare satisfying, naturally low-sugar snacks for myself’. 

If you’re ready to make some healthy changes to your diet or lifestyle this January, then remember – what you resist, persists, so learn how to acknowledge your cravings and surf your urges so you can effectively work towards your health goals in this new year.

If you think you might need support leaving unhealthy habits behind for good then please do get in touch to find out how I could help.

I’m currently offering a FREE personalised weight-loss strategy session (worth £250). There are a limited number of spaces available, so go ahead and book yourself in before I stop this offer!

In the session, I will help you map out a game plan to solve the following problems:

1. How to stay motivated without relying on willpower

2. How to eat well and lose weight naturally without relying on calorie counting

3. How to stay consistent without missing out on everything life has to offer

So you can finally get the healthy body and relationship with food you desire.

Regardless of whether you choose to work with me or not, you will walk away knowing exactly what you need to implement this strategy in your life.

Click on this link to book the session: https://calendly.com/irinanailer-healthcoaching/personalised-weight-loss-strategy-call

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  1. […] it can be hard to stick to changes you make in your life – you could be facing resistance, ironic rebound or what athlete and speaker, David Goggins calls the ‘quitting mind’ which is essentially […]

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I'm Irina, your new health coach.

Like you, my life moves at 100mph and for years I let my health take the backseat, until I made healthy work for me and my lifestyle. Now, I want to help you do the same!

My 1:1 coaching is all about empowering, inspiring and supporting women to make life-long changes that don’t revolve around restrictive diets - let’s make healthy work for you.

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