When dieters go through a rough patch they may think, “This isn’t worth it.” We help dieters realize that while dieting is hard some of the time, being overweight is hard ALL of the time, and in so many more ways. Dieting is hard, but it’s worth it.
It's extremely helpful to have a basic plan for the weekend. Think ahead to the eating events you have scheduled (parties, weddings, dinners out, etc.) and decide IN ADVANCE which ones you might eat more at and which ones you won't.
When dieters first come into our office, they have all kinds of unhelpful cognitions (which we call “sabotaging thoughts”) about everything related to diet, food, and weight loss:
Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Dieting
Once I lose weight I won’t have to diet anymore
Dieting should be easy
Dieting should not take a long time
Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Food
I should eat as little as possible to help me lose weight more quickly
I should cut out all high-fat or high-calorie foods while I’m dieting
It’s not okay to waste food
Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Hunger
Hunger is bad and something bad will happen to me if I get too hungry
If I get hungry, the hunger will just get worse and worse until I eat something
I shouldn’t ever be hungry
Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Cravings
If I am really craving something, it means I need to eat it
I might as well eat what I’m craving now because I will just end up eating it eventually
There is nothing I can do to make cravings go away
Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Weight Loss
Weight loss should be really fast – all the magazines say that it is
Weight loss should be easy – all the magazines say that it is
If I’m dieting, I need to lose weight every day/week or it means it’s not working
Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Permission
It’s okay to eat this food because….I’m stressed; I’m tired; everybody else is eating it; it’s just a little piece; it’s free; I’ll make up for it later; I’ll exercise more later; someone will be disappointed if I don’t have it; no one is watching; I’ve already blown it for the day so I’ll start again tomorrow; I’m celebrating; it will go to waste; I’m really upset; I’ve been so good lately, etc.
Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Perfectionism and Cheating
Either I’m 100% perfect on my diet or I’m totally off of it
I’ve already eaten too much today so I’ll continue to eat whatever I want and start again tomorrow
If I make mistakes while dieting, it means that I just can’t do it
Sabotaging thoughts like these are at the root of why dieters are overweight in the first place because they cause dieters to act in a certain way. Let’s say it’s 4:00pm and a dieter passes by a vending machine on the way to the bathroom. If she says to herself, “Those cookies look really good. I’m really hungry and dinner won’t be for another few hours and since there’s no way I’ll be able to hold out, I might as well just have these cookies now,” she’s probably going to end up having them.
But take the same situation – it’s 4:00 and a dieter passes by the vending machine on the way to the bathroom but this time she says to herself, “Those cookies look really good. I’m really hungry but I know that if I have these now, then I can’t have the dessert I’ve already planned to have after dinner. I absolutely don’t need these cookies and I just need to either go have the healthy snack I have at my desk or wait until dinner,” then she’s probably NOT going to have them.
Once we help dieters figure out which sabotaging thoughts they are having in any particular situation, we can help them come up with really strong responses to them so that dieters are no longer at the mercy of these thoughts.
If you make an eating mistake, continue to eat normally for the rest of the day. Telling yourself, "I won't eat anything else today," might trigger feelings of anxiety or panic when you get hungry, which could then cause you to eat much more than you would have normally.
Sabotaging Thought: Either I'm totally perfect on my diet or I'm not on it at all.
Response: Dieting is NOT all-or-nothing and treating it this way has NEVER helped me reach my goals. I have to stop allowing a mistake be an excuse for giving up because, like everyone else, I'm not perfect and am definitely going to slip up sometimes.
There is no magic bullet or magical combination of food that will enable dieters to achieve lasting weight loss. But because dieting is not magic, it means that anyone can succeed once they acquire and PRACTICE, PRACTICE essential skills.
Food tastes so much better when it is not served with a side of guilt or shame. Dieters often think they'll feel dissatisfied if they make healthy choices but usually they actually feel MUCH MORE dissatisfied when they end up feeling bad about eating unhealthy food.
Weekends, with their numerous opportunities for treats, can be difficult. Having a rule for yourself like, “No dessert until after dinner can help you limit your intake because it makes it makes it easier to turn down treats offered during the day, knowing you can have one later.
When dieters tell us "I had a really hard week," we ask them, "was it hard for every single hour of every single day?" The answer is always "no." Don't let the memory of several harder times influence your perception of the week as a whole.
Q: Now that I have lost weight, I’m finding that my motivation to stick to my diet is lessened and my Advantages List and Response Cards don’t have the same strength/power to keep my motivated. Why is this? What can I do?
A: Good question. We find that this sometimes happens to dieters – they are overweight and very unhappy about it. They learn the necessary cognitive and behavioral skills and they lose weight. Their life and health gets better. They keep practicing their skills and eventually they become used to their new look and size. And, most importantly, they (for the most part) really forget the reality of their daily life before they lost weight and the countless ways that being overweight is difficult.
When this happens to dieters, especially if they tell us their Advantages List is not really helping, the first thing we have them do is sit down and do a visualization. We ask them to think back to a time before they started losing weight and see themselves going through a typical day. We ask them to think about:
• What are you wearing?
• What do you wish you could be wearing?
• How easily or not easily are you moving around?
• Are you able to exercise comfortably and without being self-conscious?
• Do you have any sharper aches and pains?
• How is your health? Are you at higher risk for any illnesses or diseases?
• What are you eating?
• Are you feeling good about what you’re eating, or does eating certain foods cause you guilt?
• Do you feel in control of your eating?
• Are you often engaging in the uncomfortable “should I/shouldn’t I” struggle about eating things?
• How do other people look at you?
• How do you feel about yourself?
• Do you have a sense of pride in your appearance?
• Do you feel comfortable interacting with other people, either professionally or personally, who are a smaller size than you are?
• Are you setting a good example for your children?
• Do you feel comfortable being intimate with your partner?
• Are there things you are doing that day that you don’t have to do now?
• Are there things you do now that you weren’t able to do that day?
If dieters are able to do this effectively, it should help remind them of all of the small and big reasons it has been worth it to keep working on implementing their skills consistently. When we ask dieters if they would rather stop implementing their skills and return to how things used to be, 100% of the time we hear a resounding “NO!”
We also discuss with dieters the fact that, in the beginning, dieting was likely very hard for them because they were learning all of these skills for the first time. Eventually it got a lot easier and they were able to implement them consistently. But the truth of the matter is, from time to time dieting gets more difficult, which then causes motivation to lag, which then causes dieting to get even harder. We remind dieters that harder periods are completely normal and they happen to everyone. The biggest shame of all would be if dieters gave into a harder time and used it as a reason to give up, telling themselves, “This is too hard, I don’t want to do it anymore.” What dieters need to know is that as long as they keep working at it, dieting will get easier again. It always does.
So what can they do in the meantime to help make this difficult period go by faster?
1. Make a new Advantages List. By this point you’ve probably stopped reading it every day, and that’s fine. But as soon as dieting gets more difficult it’s important to start reading one every day for a period of time. Likely your old Advantages List will not be as compelling anymore because you’ve been living those advantages for a while. Use the visualization technique we mentioned to think about some new advantages you haven’t been paying attention to lately (maybe you forgot how you used to hate it when people looked at what you bought at the supermarket, or how you didn’t like to eat in social situations where everyone was of a smaller size than you, or how you used to worry that you were setting a poor example for your kids).
2. Make new Response Cards. Take time to identify what sabotaging thoughts you are having in regards to continuing to practice your dieting skills and write down strong responses to them on cards. Read these cards every day until dieting gets easier again.
3. Visualize. For a few days, take a little bit of time and again think about how your life was different before you lost weight. Ask yourself how it would feel to get back there and whether or not practicing your skills, while not always fun, are actually less of a burden than being overweight.
4. Remember. There are a few things that dieters often lose sight of once dieting gets tougher. One of the biggest ones being that when they were eating whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, often they were doing so without a sense of complete control and it did not feel good. Making healthy choices and feeling control of your eating feels so much better than constantly feeling bad about what you’re eating. Remember how it used to be and then remember how it is now.
The Beck Diet Program was developed by Dr. Judith S. Beck with Deborah Beck Busis, LCSW.
Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a leading international source for training, therapy, and resources in CBT.
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