If you were driving on the highway and missed your exit, would you say, “Forget it” and keep driving? No! You’d get off at the very next exit and turn around. If you make a mistake this weekend, immediately turn yourself around and get right back on track.
You don’t have to give in to a craving to make it go away. Cravings go away when you either decide definitely to give in to it, or when you decide definitely NOT to give in to it.
Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay to have this extra food, it’s not that much compared to what I could be eating.
Response: My body doesn’t know or care how much I’m NOT eating, it only knows how much I AM eating. If I take in more calories than I had planned, I’ll gain weight
Jamie came to see me a few weeks ago and one of the items she wanted to put on our agenda for the session was her trouble with ice cream. In the past Jamie has described ice cream as her Achilles heel, and it seemed that it had once again become problematic for her. Jamie told me that she was having difficulty keeping ice cream in her house because she would end up eating way more than one serving at a time, and way more than she had planned.
At that point, Jamie and I had discussed several strategies for her to try. I helped Jamie to identify some of the sabotaging thinking she was having in the moment she was tempted to eat more ice cream than she had planned and came up with responses to them. Some of Jamie’s sabotaging thoughts and helpful responses were:
Sabotaging thought: “It’s okay to eat more than I had planned just this one time”
Response: “It’s not okay to do it this one time because every single time matters. Every time I eat more ice cream than I had planned, I make it more likely I will eat more the next time, too. I need to exercise my resistance muscle, not my giving in muscle.”
Sabotaging Thought: “I deserve more ice cream at night because I was so good during the day and I turned down lots of holiday treats.”
Response: “My body doesn’t know or care how many things I didn’t eat today, it only knows how much I did eat. If I eat more calories than I had planned, I will gain weight.”
In session, Jamie made some new Response Cards with these helpful ideas on them and committed to reading them right before she had her nightly ice cream treat. Jamie and I also devised a plan for what she would do when she finished her serving of ice cream, including immediately putting her bowl and spoon in the dishwasher and turning to a list of distraction techniques to employ until the craving for more had passed.
Jamie came back to see me the following week and reported that ice cream continued to be a problem for her and she was feeling bad about her lack of control. Jamie reported that even though she was reading her Response Cards, sabotaging thoughts were continuing to hound her and she was struggling on an almost nightly basis. She said that every time she set out to have ice cream, she would have the thought, “I’ll be able to stop after one serving,” although that rarely was the case.
Jamie and I then talked about what our next plan of attack should be. I reminded Jamie that, while the ultimate goal is for her to be able to keep anything in the house and know she can stay in control, if a particular food item is consistently giving her trouble it can be a good idea to just not keep it in the house for the time being. Jamie and I discussed the fact that she was constantly putting herself through a struggle each night because even when she was able to limit her intake to one serving, it was very hard for her to do so. On any given night, the thought, “I’ll be able to stop after one serving,” was either not true, or it was true but required a lot of struggle and effort on Jamie’s part.
By the end of the session, Jamie came to the conclusion that right now, even though she really liked ice cream, it just wasn’t worth it to her to keep it in the house. I reminded Jamie that she doesn’t have to keep ice cream out of her house forever; rather this is just for a limited time while she builds back up her resistance muscle. Jamie also decided that if she really wanted ice cream, she could go out and buy a single serving of it so she wouldn’t have to struggle to stop eating. Undoubtedly Jamie will keep ice cream in her house in the future, but for right now the negatives outweigh the positives.
Losing or maintaining weight over the holidays can be difficult, but it is by no means impossible. If you tell yourself, “I just can’t possibly lose weight at this time,” you’re giving yourself an excuse to not even try.
Most thin people do NOT eat whatever they want, whenever they want. When dieting feels unfair, remind yourself that likely most people around you are also restricting their eating to some degree. If you’re working on dieting, you’re in very good company.
Remember, your body does not know or care that it’s a weekend; it processes calories the same regardless of the day of the week. If your goal is to lose weight and keep it off, then weekends are a break from work, NOT a break from healthy eating.
Holiday treats hanging around your office? It can be helpful to make the decision to not have any while at work, but bring home a portion of whatever looks best to you. That way you won’t have to struggle about whether or not to have some each time you see the treats, and you’ll still be able to enjoy a portion later and not have to worry about eating more than you planned.
Sabotaging Thought: I’m really stressed out, I need to eat!
Response: I may WANT to eat, but I don’t NEED to. There are many people who feel stressed without turning to food and if I had been in a stressful situation where food wasn’t available, I’d deal with it without eating, too.
Perhaps one of the most commonly heard holiday-related sabotaging thoughts is, “My resolution is to eat healthfully so I’ll start dieting after New Year’s.” In our work with dieters we don’t subscribe to the notion that it’s a good idea, or even a rational idea, to wait until the holidays are over to start eating healthfully. Instead, we work with our dieters to help them build skills and practice them consistently so that they don’t have to struggle to get back on track come January 1st. The reason we do this is because the holiday season happens year, and if dieters decide to throw in the towel during the holidays this year, chances are pretty good they will do the same thing next year, and every year to follow. Here’s why it’s so problematic to wait until the New Year to begin eating healthfully again:
1. If dieters decide that it’s okay to splurge a lot during the holidays and eat whatever they want, it sends themselves the message that it’s okay to make exceptions to dieting and healthy eating. Once dieters start making exceptions in one area, they begin to get tempted to make exceptions in other ways as well, telling themselves, “just this one time won’t matter”. Instead of just knowing that they will stay in control during the weekends, at weddings, functions, dinners out, parties, and other holidays, they may begin to struggle with themselves before and during each one and agonize over whether or not to make an exception. We always remind our dieters that one of the hardest parts of dieting is the struggle, and everything we can do to reduce the struggle is worth it.
2. There is no guarantee that dieters will actually be able to get themselves back on track once the holiday season is over. At the beginning of the holiday season, dieters may firmly believe that no matter what once the New Year hits they will be able to return to healthy eating, but this is not always the case. If dieters eat off track during the holiday season, it is likely that they will end up gaining some, or even a lot, of weight. Gaining weight can be very discouraging, and the more discouraged dieters feel, the harder it will be for them to get back on track. If dieters are feeling discouraged, when the New Year comes they may very well end up telling themselves, “I’ve gained all this weight so what’s the point,” or, “I’ll get back on track tomorrow,” or, “I’ll start my diet next week,” and it may take weeks or even months for dieters to regain control over their eating.
3. Dieters will constantly undo all of their hard work from the rest of the year by gaining weight during the holiday season. Even if they are able to get themselves back on track January 1st, they may not be able to quite lose all the weight they had gained. If this happens, dieters will find that their weight slowly begins to creep up year after year and they may begin to feel helpless to stop it.
4. It often happens with dieters that once they get off track for a number of days, they actually forget how good it feels to be in control of their eating and how much they enjoy all the benefits of losing weight. Especially if dieters have gotten used to giving in to all their cravings, eating whatever they feel like, and not having a plan, it can be very difficult for them to convince themselves to return to healthy eating once the holiday season is over because they don’t remember how much better it feels when they are practicing their skills consistently.
5. Once dieters get off track, it can undermine their confidence that they are capable of dieting successfully and controlling their eating. Not only do they forget how good it feels when they are in control, they may also begin to question their abilities to lose weight and keep it off permanently.
For all of these reasons and more, we find that it is just not worth it to continually splurge during the holiday season and have to count on getting back on track January 1st, because doing so can make almost every part of dieting and maintaining harder and jeopardize future success. Our dieters come to realize that good health, feeling good about themselves, having more self-confidence, being able to move around better, being able to fit into their old clothes, feeling proud of themselves, setting a good example for their kids, and feeling good when they look in the mirror more than makes up for it. So don’t wait, start your resolution RIGHT NOW and come January 1st you will be so happy you did.
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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