America vs. Italy

am-flag.jpgWe had a special visitor during our diet group today, our colleague from Rome, Dr. Antonella Montano.  During the meeting she talked about her impressions of food in America and the differences between here and Rome. Antonella reported that she was SHOCKED when she went to a US supermarket.  She said in Italy, they have one or two varieties for most products, and the sizes are much smaller than in America. She was staggered by how many types of bread, snack food, cakes, and soda there were.  For some products, like ice cream, Antonella couldn’t believe how big the containers are that you can buy.  They don’t sell ½ gallon cartons of ice cream in Italy because people don’t eat that much!  As Antonella says, in order to successfully handle the US supermarkets, “You have to be a warrior!”  Because there are fewer options and smaller packages in Italy, making the right food decisions is easier there.

Antonella also pointed out some other differences in eating between Italy and the
U.S.  She ordered a salad at a restaurant yesterday and said that this single U.S. serving would have been enough for five people in Italy.  Also, in Italy they only put lemon, vinegar, and a small amount of oil on their salads, “not blue cheese dressing!”  She further noted that in Italy, children are taught from the onset that you eat three meals a day, and maybe a small snack in between.  There’s no eating all day in Italy as we sometimes do in America. In fact, restaurants often close between lunch and dinner, which forces people to stick to a more normal eating schedule.  Antonella was surprised that you can get huge meals 24 hours a day in America.  “You can always find a place to get extra food.  In Italy it’s not like that.” it-flag.jpg

We learned a lot from Antonella. We Americans tend to think our abnormally large portions are normal. Then when we restrict our eating to lose weight, we feel deprived (a problem dieters learn to cope with on Day 22 of The Beck Diet Solution)—instead of realizing that we are finally having the same reasonably-sized portions as much of the rest of the world.

Lemon Cake: Carolyn

Carolyn has pretty much mastered the skill of working any food into her diet.  Unlike a lot of dieters, she doesn’t have foods that are completely off-limits, and she doesn’t have certain foods that she labels either, “good” or “bad.”  Instead, she has come to realize that any food can be eaten, as long as it’s worked into a daily plan (discussed on Day 2 of The Beck Diet Solution). 

lemon-cake.jpgOne of Carolyn’s favorite desserts is a special lemon cake she only buys at one store that she doesn’t get to very often.  Carolyn had thought she would go to this store on Friday and then plan the cake into her meal plan for Saturday, as a weekend treat.  However, Carolyn instead ended up going to the store and purchasing her lemon cake on Thursday, not Friday.  When she got home with the cake, Carolyn knew both that she would be very tempted by it and that she hadn’t planned to eat it until Saturday.  That night she was having all sorts of sabotaging thoughts that were urging her to eat the cake, “It’s ok to have just a small piece; it won’t really matter; it’s so good I can hardly resist.” (Day 25) Carolyn recognized, however, that even though she was craving it, it was important to not eat the cake, and not just because it would put her over her calorie limit for the day.  If she gave in and ate the cake, she would weaken her resolve to resist cravings in the future. However, if she answered back to her sabotaging thoughts and didn’t give into her craving, she would build both her resolve to resist future cravings and the confidence to know that she can withstand them (Day 13). 

Carolyn went immediately into the kitchen and put the cake on top of the refrigerator where she wouldn’t easily see it.  She also went and read her Advantages List and reminded herself why it was so important for her to resist the cake and lose weight.  She firmly told herself, “No choice, I am not going to eat the cake,” and within in minutes, her craving diminished.  After Carolyn used these techniques to strengthen her resolve, it was no problem for her to resist the cake on Friday as well.  She ate a piece on Saturday exactly as she had planned, and felt extremely happy and proud about it.

Standing Firm: Maria

It was Maria’s daughter’s birthday last week, so over the weekend Maria threw a sleepover party for her and her friends.  Maria knew that there would be a lot of tempting food around all evening and night and so she sat down ahead of time and planned out what and how much she would eat (discussed on Day 16 of The Beck Diet Solution).  Maria decided that the best way to approach this situation was to make sure she had lower calorie versions of the regular party food.  For herself she bought fat free hotdogs to eat instead of regular ones, a snack size bag of microwave popcorn instead of a buttery full-size bag, and 100-calorie packs of the same kind of cookies. 

For the most part everything went according to plan during the party.  Maria was able to enjoy her scaled-down version of the party food and didn’t feel deprived because she had prepared for the situation so well (Day 30).  However, there was one snag when Maria came face to face with a big bowl of gummy bears – a food she hadn’t anticipated wanting at all.  She suddenly developed a strong craving to eat them, and all at once the struggle started in her mind.  “It went back and forth,” Maria said, “like an angel and a devil on each shoulder.”  She had thoughts like, “It’s ok to eat the [unplanned] gummy bears because it’s a celebration; I really want it; it will just be one.”  She countered those sabotaging thoughts by telling herself, “It’s not ok to eat unplanned food.  Every time I eat something I’m not supposed to, it reinforces that bad habit.  Every time I resist unplanned food, it reinforces the good habit and increases the chance I will resist in the future.”  (Day 13). 

After a long struggle, Maria finally made the firm decision that she was absolutely not going to eat any gummy bears.  She went immediately to her refrigerator where she had posted her Advantages List (Day 1) and read it to remind herself of just why it was so important to her not to eat unplanned food.  As soon as the decision not to eat was made, Maria said that her craving immediately began to diminish and the urge to eat gummy bears eventually subsided.  This was an incredibly important experience for Maria because it showed her that cravings eventually pass and she doesn’t need to eat to get rid of them, and that she is strong and can be confident in the future of her ability to withstand uncomfortable cravings.

More Birthdays!

birthdayballoons.jpgThree of our dieters – Roxanne, Charlotte, and Diana – had birthdays in the past 2 weeks, and they reported that this birthday was very different from previous ones.  In the past all of our dieters have noted that they used their birthdays (and usually their friends and family’s birthdays, too!) as an excuse to overeat, telling themselves, “It’s ok to eat this because it’s a special occasion; I’m celebrating” (discussed on Day 19 of The Beck Diet Solution).  This year, however, things were very different. 

One of Roxanne’s friends thoughtfully baked her a cake, but knowing that Roxanne is trying to lose weight, she made a light angel food cake, using Splenda instead of sugar.  Roxanne was touched by the gesture, but because she hadn’t planned to eat cake that day, she didn’t allow herself to use her birthday as an excuse to eat unplanned food.  She took the cake home and enjoyed a piece the next day when she was able to work it into her plan.  In spite of her birthday, Roxanne lost a pound this week.

 Charlotte, a professor, had a similar experience.  One of her students baked a cake and brought it in for her department to enjoy.  Knowing that Charlotte was on a diet, the student made the cake healthier using applesauce instead of oil and left a section of it without icing.  Because of this, Charlotte was able to take part in the birthday celebration and still lose weight this week.

Diana, too, had a lot of people who wanted to commemorate her birthday.  However, she told everyone that she didn’t need a cake because she didn’t want to deal with having it around.  But this doesn’t mean that her friends weren’t able to find other ways to celebrate her birthday.  When she got home from work she found out that her coworkers had sent her a big bouquet of flowers – made out of fruit.

Our dieters this week handled their birthdays with ease and confidence.  We’re so proud of them!

Birthday: Diana

Diana’s birthday is on Wednesday and with it comes a multitude of food temptations – meals out, a party, cake, etc.  Diana’s family took her out to dinner on Sunday where they serve huge, family-style portions of food.  In the past Diana would have gone all out at such a meal, with the permission-giving thoughts, “It’s ok to eat this because I’m celebrating; it’s free; everyone else is eating it; I’ll hurt their feelings if I don’t eat a lot.”  This year, however, Diana was able to recognize these for what they really are – sabotaging thoughts that will cause her to stray from her diet (discussed on Day 25 of The Beck Diet Solution).  To counteract them, Diana firmly planned what she would eat before she got to the restaurant, read her Advantages List, and announced to her family in the car that she was not going to overeat (Day 30). 

Diana’s preparations paid off.  When she got to the restaurant, she was tempted by the smell and sight all of the food, but she resolutely stuck to her planned meal.  She passed up almost all of the tempting dishes her family ordered, knowing that she couldn’t eat them and still lose weight.  Diana reported that there were also quite a few birthdays at the restaurant that night, as the waiters were frequently bringing patrons huge slices of cake with candles.  Diana said her family tried to order a slice of birthday cake for her too, but because it wasn’t on her plan she refused the offer and instead had the low calorie desert she had planned when she returned home. 

Because Diana is very active in her church, they too wanted to celebrate her birthday by getting her a big cake.  Diana knew that she would be tempted by the cake and so she told her church that she didn’t want one, and instead they sang to her on Sunday, because “singing doesn’t have any calories.”  So far Diana is handling her birthday obstacles without difficulty; she lost 3 ½ pounds this week.

Slippage: Maria

During the group on Monday, we talked about the notion of “slippage” – letting bad habits infiltrate back into your life.  Setting in place new, helpful behaviors about diet and exercise takes time and energy, and the new habits and skills need to be practiced consistently to make sure the old ones don’t come creeping back (discussed on Day 42 of The Beck Diet Solution).

pretzels.jpgMaria noted that she was at risk for slippage when she was preparing her daughters’ lunches in the evening.  Several days in a row Maria caught herself popping an (unplanned) pretzel into her mouth as she was putting them into bags.  We discussed with Maria that while the number of calories in a pretzel is trivial, the act of absentmindedly eating unplanned food is not.  Today it could be a pretzel while preparing her daughters’ lunches, tomorrow it could be a brownie while talking on the phone (Day 16).  Also, while there are few calories in one pretzel, eating extra unplanned food every day while preparing lunch eventually would add up and could easily lead Maria to stop losing weight or even start gaining. 

Maria recommitted herself to not eating any unplanned food and to being extra alert when she was preparing food for others.  She stopped her slight slippage right at the onset, which will enable her to continue losing weight.

Wasting Food: Brenda

One of the topics we discussed during our group meeting is the importance of throwing outtrashcans1.jpg extra food.  Keeping leftovers hanging around in the refrigerator and cupboards can tempt dieters and threaten to derail their good efforts.  A lot of our dieters initially expressed discomfort at the idea of wasting food.  However, what we like to remind our dieters is that if you eat extra food you don’t need, your body can’t use it and just turns it into fat, i.e. the food is wasted in your body.  So the food is wasted in the trashcan or wasted in your body, but either way it’s wasted (discussed on Day 7 of The Beck Diet Solution). 

Brenda in particular had a lot of trouble throwing out extra food.  Her daughter would often cook big meals and there would be lots of leftovers that she couldn’t bring herself to toss in the trash.  Brenda said the leftovers would hang out in her fridge for a couple of days until she eventually ate them, whether she really wanted to or not.  She also often had half-finished boxes of snack foods in her cupboard that her grandchildren would start and not finish, and even though they were often stale and fairly unappealing, there were times when they sorely tempted Brenda.

Brenda responded really well to the notion, “In the trashcan or in your body, either way it’s wasted,” and with this new mentality it became easier for her to throw out food.  Brenda slowly got in the habit of throwing out all the unwanted leftovers from the meals her daughter cooked, because she knew she’d rather the food be wasted in her trashcan than show up on the scale.  Brenda also now periodically goes through her cupboards and without difficulty throws out all the unfinished, stale snack food.  Learning to throw out food may seem like a simple idea, but it will continually keep Brenda from eating extra food and help her keep the weight off permanently. 

“If I hadn’t joined the group…”

We asked our diet group to complete the sentence, “If I hadn’t joined the group…” Here’s what they have to say about how the group, The Beck Diet Solution, and the techniques of Cognitive Therapy have helped them.

If I hadn’t joined the group…

Maria: “I would most likely have serious health problems and still would have been more than 44lbs heavier than I am today. I was becoming an introvert; I didn’t want anyone to see how fat I had become.”

Diana: “I would have gained 25 pounds.”

Brenda: “I would continue to try other fad diets and ultimately fail because I would not have learned behavior that would enable me to make conscious lifelong changes in my eating habits.”

Linda: “I would probably still be eating cheese steaks and chips and stopping by a fast food drive-thrus.”

Charlotte: “I would have continued putting on ~2 pounds/year for the rest of my life.”

Carolyn: “As a result of your weight loss group I have learned to take an active role in applying the following key words to my life: Decision – I have made a life-time decision to make positive food planning choices; Choice – I have learned that hunger is not an emergency and that I must practice “No Choice” on a daily basis; Lifestyle – Proper eating habits should be practiced as a way of lifefor the rest of my life; Maintain – Maintaining is worth the perpetual outcome it brings.  If I had not attended your weight loss group I really don’t believe that I would have the positive mind set that I have today. The phrase “Mind Set” being key.”