Dieters often go off track because they think they’ll enjoy themselves more if they’re not restricting their eating. We ask them to really think about how it feels when they’re off track and many find that they actually spend more time feeling badly about themselves and guilty about their eating than they do feeling good. Remember, being off track might not actually make you feel the way you think it will.
Sabotaging Thought: It’s just one/one little bit. It won’t hurt!
Response: Consider the evidence from past experiences. When has “just one” EVER really stayed at just one? When has having “just one” EVER helped me to lose weight and keep it off? Just one actually will hurt because it'll likely turn in to more and it also reinforces my habit of giving in. Remember, it’s not about the calories, it’s about the habit!
If you think, “I’ve been good all day so I can eat this [extra food] now,” remind yourself, “Just because I’ve been good all day DOESN'T mean I can eat extra now. It’s the ‘extra’ that will stop me from losing weight.”
We asked one maintainer how she is able to get herself to do what she needs to do to maintain her weight, day in and day out. She responded, “When I’m in control of my eating and my weight, I feel more like my natural self. When I’m out of control, I feel badly and it shows. It’s worth it to me to do what I need to do because it enables me to feel like me.”
Successful dieters and maintainers stay successful because they don’t eat whatever they want, whenever they want. Remember – your body doesn’t know or care what day it is, so if you want to be successful (or stay successful) you have to stay in control of your eating, even though it’s the weekend.
The more uncluttered your eating environment, the more you’ll be able to enjoy your meal. While eating, if you’re looking at all the bills or the emails you have to take care of, it will make mealtimes more stressful. Take a few moments to make your eating environment more serene, and you'll likely find the whole experience becomes more satisfying, too.
Sabotaging Thought: I don’t deserve credit for my efforts along the way, I only deserve credit once I reach my weight loss goals.
Response: If I were teaching a child to read, would I give him credit for each new word he learned, or would I think, “He’s got so much more to go. He only deserves credit once he can read chapter books”? It’s crucial to give myself credit each and every step of the way so that I can gain the confidence to know I can keep moving forward and learning new things.
I recently had a session with my dieter, Kara, who is a busy stay-at-home mom to her four boys. In earlier sessions, Kara and I worked on all of the foundational dieting skills and she got very adept at consistently instituting good eating habits. Because of this, we then started talking about having Kara make a food plan in advance and stick to it. Kara was initially resistant to this idea and stated that her lifestyle just wouldn’t work with a strict eating plan because she was always on the go and she often didn’t know ahead of time what her next meal would be. Kara also said that she didn’t want to give up spontaneous eating and liked being able to eat something if it was offered to her unexpectedly. I discussed with Kara the fact that making a food plan and sticking to it would likely make her life a lot easier because she wouldn’t have to rely on willpower at any one given moment to resist unplanned treats. I also pointed out that it might actually be very helpful for Kara to have a food plan, because she was often scrambling around at the last moment to make sure that she had dinner on the table for her family.
Despite these compelling reasons for why it might be worth it to try making a plan and sticking to it, Kara still resisted the idea and so we agreed to try it her way first – she’d work on staying in control of her eating and resist cravings, but without having a formal plan. Over that week, Kara tried hard to reign in her eating without a food plan and without violating her rule: no junk food until after dinner. However, when Kara came in to see me the following week, she dejectedly told me that something had thrown her off almost every single day, like when she was offered licorice at the park, cookies at a PTA meeting, or a dinner out with her husband.
Kara and I discussed what had happened over the week and she realized that, right now, she faces too many temptations each day to be able to resist all of them easily enough, and therefore making a plan and sticking might be very helpful in overcoming this obstacle. I reminded Kara that she probably tried very hard each day to resist the temptations and to reason herself out of eating food she knew she shouldn’t, and therefore likely had a much harder week than if she had just known ahead of time whether or not she was going to have something. Kara decided that she was willing to try and stick to a food plan for at least one week and see if it made a difference in her overall day.
Before she set out to do this, Kara and I spent some time in session thinking about when it would be hardest for her to stick to her plan and what sabotaging thoughts might get in the way of her doing so. Kara thought that the hardest times would be, as it had been, when she was offered or saw food she didn’t expect, and to not give in in that moment. I asked Kara what thoughts she might have in those moments, and then she made Response Cards with responses that we formulated together. Here are some of Kara’s sabotaging thoughts and then the responses we formulated:
Sabotaging Thought: I really want to eat that right now even though it’s not on my plan. Just this one time won’t matter.
Sabotaging Thought: It’s not fair that I can’t eat this treat right now.
Sabotaging Thought: I really don’t like having to make a food plan.
When Kara came in to see me earlier this week, she reported that she had had a much better week. As we predicted, once Kara made a food plan and worked on sticking to it, it made several aspects of her life easier. First of all, Kara struggled a lot less about whether or not to eat something that was offered to her because she knew that if it wasn’t on her plan, she shouldn’t convince herself that it was okay to eat it. Second, Kara also found that she really enjoyed having meal plans for the day (and even for the week) because it allowed her more time with her boys in the afternoon because she was spending less time trying to figure out what to prepare for dinner. Once Kara decided to try making a food plan, she realized that it wasn’t nearly as bad as she thought it was going to be and, in many ways, it actually made her day better, not worse.
You can eat a slice of pumpkin pie in 5 bites or in 25 bites. Either way it's the same amount of food, but if you eat it in 25 bites, you get to enjoy it 20 more times.
Important reminder: If you think, “It’s not fair that I have to work hard and struggle with my weight,” remember that EVERYONE has unfairnesses in their lives and this is one of yours. However, unlike many unfairnesses, this is one that you can actually take control over and make better by learning and practicing specific skills. Although it may be true it’s unfair you have to work hard to lose weight, at least there are things you can do!
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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