Why Is It So Hard to Throw Away Food?

Some dieters are so surprised when I suggest that throwing away food is an essential skill for long-term success (pages 82-83 of The Complete Beck Diet for Life). Stella told me that she usually nibbled on the food her children left on their plates and on the small amount of food left in serving dishes. “It’s only a little,” she would rationalize. “I don’t want it to go to waste.” We discussed this problem one day in session.

First, I re-introduced the notion that eating food she hadn’t planned to eat in advance was strengthening her “giving-in” muscle, which meant it was more likely that the next time she would give in and the next and the next. It wasn’t so much the calories (two fries and a bite of hamburger aren’t terribly caloric) for any one instance of eating food from their plates, it was the habit.

Second, we talked about the concept that the food was actually going to waste in her body. The only way the leftover food wouldn’t “go to waste” would be if she wrapped it up and gave it to someone who truly needed it.

Third, I asked Stella if she could think of someone who had a different view about wasting food. Stella told me that her husband who would never even think about eating from their kids’ plates as he cleared the table or taking the last two tablespoons of mashed potatoes from the serving bowl if he had already finished eating.

Fourth, we looked at the impact of her ideas about wasting food. Stella was able to see that her habit had probably added pounds to her weight in the past few years and would likely continue to do so.

Fifth, I helped Stella see that although her mother had imparted many valuable lessons to her when she was young, the idea “throwing away food is a sin,” wasn’t one of them.

Sixth, I asked Stella about her children:

Dr. Beck: Do you want your kids to grow up with the idea that throwing away food is a sin? Do you want them to feel badly if they don’t clear their plates? Do you want them to have to fight the urge to finish the family’s leftovers?

Stella: No!

Dr. Beck: What do you want them to believe?

Stella: That they should eat reasonable portions of food and stop, not eat while they’re clearing the table.

Dr. Beck: And how about you?

Stella: Okay, I see it now. I shouldn’t do it either. It’s really just an excuse, anyway. I know I should stick to my plan.

Finally, we did some problem-solving. Stella decided to have her children put their own plates in the dishwasher and take turns wrapping up leftovers. A couple of weeks later, she reported that she had completely broken herself of the habit.

Slippery Slope

I hadn’t seen Ellie for several months. At our last appointment, she had been doing quite well, having lost 30 pounds in 7 months. She called me up one Monday, several weeks ago, because she had gained weight after a weekend of eating more than usual.

When we analyzed what had happened, it became apparent that Ellie had not only overeaten over the weekend, but that she had also gradually returned to some of her previous unhelpful eating behaviors. She had been on a slippery slope for about a month. For example, she was nibbling on food leftover from her family’s dinner plates. She was eating snacks standing up at the cabinet or refrigerator, instead of setting one portion on the table and sitting down to eat it. She hadn’t read her list of reasons to lose weight for a couple of months. No wonder she was having trouble!

Together we developed a plan of action. Ellie committed to reading a new Response Card (pages 20-21 of The Complete Beck Diet for Life) every morning. It said:

“I can nibble on leftover food and eat standing up OR I can continue to lose weight. I’m much happier with myself when I don’t do those things.”

Ellie also decided to go back to filling out a Success Skills Sheet (pages 274-275) every night for two weeks.

When Ellie called me this week, she was happy to report that she was once again easily using good eating habits and following her eating plan, and that she was continuing to lose weight. Now she knows precisely what to do in the future to get back on track.