What a Relief

When Mark sat down in my office this week, he said, “Before we start, can I just tell you how relieved I feel?” When I said, “Of course,” Mark told me:

“I finally get it. I do. Cravings go away. I don’t have to eat to make them go away. When I’m tempted, the more I say, ‘Don’t worry, you’re going to eat again at ______ o’clock, the easier and easier it gets.’ ”

I asked Mark to give me an example.

“It happened again late yesterday afternoon. A vendor brought some cookies—really big ones—to the office. I really started craving one but I said to myself, ‘No, you’ve already had your snack and you’re going to have dinner at 6:30. So no choice. Get back to work.’ I had to make a phone call and by the time it was over, the craving was gone. It was like, “Well, it’d be nice to have a cookie but I know I’m not going to have it.” I can’t tell you what a relief it is to know that I can make a craving go away, that I don’t have to give in to it. I know, I know, you’ve been telling me this all along but somehow it really clicked yesterday.”

 I asked Mark if we should write something about this on a Response Card that he could read regularly to really cement the idea in his mind. This is what he wrote:

Cravings really do go away. I don’t have to be at their mercy any more. Remember the March 30th cookie situation. When I finished the phone call, the craving had gone away.

 Mark is typical of the dieters with whom I work. It makes sense to them intellectually that cravings go away, especially when they turn their attention to something else, but they don’t really believe it in their gut—not until they’ve had repeated experiences of finding this out for themselves. And when they do, like Mark, they tend to experience a profound sense of relief.



Marta was dismayed. After 20 months of maintaining her weight loss with relative ease, she had gone off track and had gained back five pounds.


“I wouldn’t mind it so much if I had decided in advance to eat more,” she said, “but that’s not what happened. A couple of weeks ago, we had company for the weekend. I was fine at first, but then everyone else was eating and drinking so much, that I wanted to, too. I just stopped using my usual weekend plan. So by Monday morning, I had gained two pounds. I felt really bad about that, and I was okay for the next couple of days. But then, for some reason, I started snacking too much after dinner. I’d have that old sabotaging thought, ‘I’ve eaten too much. I might as well start again tomorrow.’ I didn’t go way overboard the way I used to, but I did eat more than usual for the rest of that week and this week, like larger portions at meals, bread and butter at dinner, and extra snacks at night. I keep promising myself that I’m going to get back in control but I can’t seem to do it. My weight is up and I’m afraid I’ll just keep gaining more.”


Marta and I talked about the two choices she could make:


  1. She could plan to eat extra food, including bread and butter at dinner and an extra snack at night. It would be planned eating, though, not spontaneous deviations from her plan. Depending on how many extra calories she planned to have, she might gain a little more weight, plateau at her current weight, or lose a little.
  2. She could go back to her previous plan and lose the five pounds she had gained.


Either plan was completely legitimate and either way, she’d need to go back to practicing her daily CT skills (e.g., reading her Advantages Deck and Response Cards right after dinner, going to her Distraction Box if she felt the urge to eat unplanned snacks).


Marta called me several days after our “booster” session. She was back on track, felt in control, and didn’t need another appointment. I asked her what had made the biggest difference. She said going back to the basic CT skills had done the trick.

“Best Diet” Research Misses the Boat

There has been a good deal of research lately on what constitutes the best diet for weight loss: low fat? low carb? high protein? high fiber? I think the researchers are asking the wrong question. Any calorie-controlled diet works, at least in the short-run. But research shows that no matter what diet they choose, most people regain whatever weight they’ve lost. I think dieters need to consider what is the best kind of diet for them as individuals, that is, what is the healthiest diet they can stay on for life.


There’s really no sense in reducing calories to a level you can’t sustain for the long-run or cutting out favorite foods that you’ll eventually return to anyway or trying to follow an eating plan that is too inflexible to fit into your lifestyle (e.g., traveling or restaurant eating). Yes, to lose weight you’ll have to reduce your calories, you may need to decrease (but not necessarily eliminate altogether) your intake of unhealthy fats and sugary foods and increase your intake of lean protein, healthy fats, and fiber (especially through fruits and vegetables). But you also need to learn how to eat modest portions of your favorite foods, as often as every day (pages 120-123).


What’s the best diet? Let’s change the question. What’s the best diet for you?

Regularize Your Eating

It was important for Emilia to learn how to regularize her eating by sticking to three meals and three snacks a day—before she started dieting. I demonstrated how important this skill is (pages 89-93), by asking Emilia to set aside one day where she would make a note every time she wanted to eat when it wasn’t a meal time or snack time. This is what she recorded:


·         when I stopped to buy coffee right after breakfast (the muffins looked good)

·         when Eric offered me a donut (he brought a box to work)

·         when I finished my mid-morning snack and wanted to keep eating

·         when I didn’t feel like entering data into a chart

·         when I got back from lunch and saw leftover pizza in the kitchenette

·         when I was feeling tired around 4 pm

·         when I saw hard candy on Cynthia’s desk

·         when I went to the kitchenette to get a soda

·         as soon as I opened the door to my apartment

·         as I was making dinner

·         as I was clearing the dishes and putting away food after dinner

·         as I was watching television and saw an ice cream commercial

·         when I was leafing through a magazine and saw a recipe

·         after I had an upsetting conversation with my sister on the phone

·         when I went into the kitchen to look at the mail

·         when I was doing email


Emilia was amazed at how often she had a desire to eat, even when she clearly wasn’t hungry. This experience demonstrated to her how important it was to have a clear guideline: if she wanted to eat, she had to wait for the next meal or snack. Eating when she “felt” like it would definitely lead to weight gain, as it always had in the past. She felt regret over giving up spontaneous eating but recognized that if she wanted to achieve her goal of permanent weight loss, it was necessary.




How to Keep Your Weight Loss Resolution


If you want to be successful, DON’T START OUT BY DIETING! In my experience, the major reason that people have difficulty losing weight or keeping it off is that they jump right into following an eating plan before they have learned how to diet.


Almost anyone can lose at least a little weight; you don’t necessarily need dieting skills to do so. But you do need these skills if you want to continue to lose weight and keep weight off. You need to learn exactly what to do when dieting gets harder. And it does get harder—for everyone–sometimes within the first week or two, sometimes not for a month or two. People often give up because they don’t have the skills to push through the difficult times. Then they regain whatever weight they have lost.


 If you’ve only sailed a boat in calm waters, you don’t want to leave on an extended trip without knowing what to do when the going gets tough. You might be able to navigate well when the ocean is calm, but look out if the weather gets rough! You need to learn foul weather skills in advance.


It’s the same with dieting. You don’t want to run into a rough patch and be ill-equipped to handle it. You need to learn, before you run into a squall, how to motivate yourself when you’re feeling unmotivated, how to refocus your attention when you have a craving, how to stick to a plan when you’re eating out, and how to get back on track immediately when you make a mistake. These skills are not intuitively obvious, but they can be learned in a step-by-step program. It’s too difficult for most people to focus on changing their eating while they’re learning these skills. That’s why I recommend postponing the start of your diet until you know what to do in stormy weather.                       

Dieters Need a Complete Diet for Life

I’ve been bombarded with questions about how my new book, The Complete Beck Diet for Life, is different from my first diet book, which did not contain a diet (eating plan) but did contain a six-week program to teach people how to diet. Most obvious is that the new book has a healthy eating plan that is flexible and enjoyable so people can modify it and stay on it for life.

Why did I include a diet? After publication of the first book, I received a couple of thousand emails and read a couple of thousand postings from online support communities who were following the program. I found that a cognitive behavioral approach just wasn’t enough. Although I urged people to find a healthy, well-balanced, nutritious diet, I found that people weren’t following that advice. They were choosing fad diets, unbalanced diets, diets that didn’t include their favorite foods, diets that allowed them to skip breakfast, diets that incorporated way too many carbs (and not enough foods to satiate their hunger), diets that were unnecessarily restrictive in choices or provided too few calories. Inevitably, dieters would stray from their eating plan, gain weight, get discouraged, and give up—then, after a few days or months, would try again with another inadvisable diet, and the cycle continued.

I also found out that many dieters should ease into making changes in their food intake, for example, changing just one meal at a time. They need to be guided in modifying a basic eating plan so it suits their tastes and lifestyles. They need to learn how to handle challenging eating situations where they don’t have control over the food that’s available or where others are pushing food on them. They especially need to learn exactly what to do when it’s not time to eat but they’re experiencing hunger, cravings, or want to soothe their distress with food.

In short, to be successful, dieters needed a complete program for weight loss, that incorporates a psychological approach (e.g., what to do when you’re feeling discouraged, disappointed, or deprived), dieting skills, an enjoyable eating plan, and techniques for keeping motivated for life. Most people think that just following a diet will be enough. I had previously thought that just learning essential skills was enough. But now it’s apparent—you need both.