I get a lot of questions from dieters on a daily basis, via email, phone, tweets, Facebook messages, carrier pigeon, etc. Today I’m going to answer a few of the most commonly asked ones. If you have any questions that you would like to see answered on future “Ask the Diet Program Coordinator” segments, feel free to post them in the comments section.
Q: Is it better to cut tempting food out of my life when I’m dieting?
A: In our experience, the answer to this question is no, you should not cut anything out of your diet that you plan to begin eating again at some point, whether it be three months or three years from now. The reason for this is because if, let’s say, you cut out all bread from your life even though you really love it, chances are at some point in the future you are going to wind up eating it again. If you have the idea in your head that bread=bad and after this one time you won’t be eating it again, then you will likely end up eating a lot more bread than you would if you were having it every day, because subconsciously you’ll be thinking “this might be the last time I allow myself to have bread for a long time so I better load up now.” Additionally, because you had some bread at that meal, you might also then be tempted to think “Well I’ve made one mistake, I might as well keep eating whatever I want and get back on track later.” However, ‘later” might not end up being the next meal or even the next day and it could take a lot longer than that to get back on track.
Because of these reasons, we find that it works better to learn specific cognitive and behavioral skills which will enable you to eat some of your favorite foods while staying in control and not eating more than you planned. While this is not easy in the beginning, it’s so worth it. If you want to eat it in the future, learn how to eat it today.
Q: How do I deal with the desire to be heavy for psychological reasons? Since I was little I’ve used eating as a way to put a barrier between myself and other people and I can’t seem to get past that as an adult.
A: People develop coping strategies for any number of reasons and while they may work at the time, sometimes they eventually become unhelpful. Try to keep reminding yourself why it is worth it to you to work past this now adverse coping technique and all of the myriad ways in which it is holding you back. Try making a list of all of the advantages of losing weight AND all the advantages of overcoming the desire to stay heavy. Read them both daily as motivation to keep working toward your goals. Another thing that we recommend people do is just set a goal to lose 5 pounds. Once you reach that goal, make the decision of whether or not to set another 5 pound goal. That way you don’t have the stress of thinking about completely changing your body right away, because in reality it wouldn’t happen that way anyway.
While we know that this can be a difficult thing to work through, we’ve also seen and helped people do this successfully and it is so gratifying when they finally shed this thing that has been holding them back for years and years.
Q: What should I do when dieting starts to feel really unfair?
A: Dieters feel the “unfairness factor” at different times and for different reasons. It may happen when they are having a craving for something that is not on their plan, when they are watching other people eat something they want, or when dieting on that particular day feels especially difficult and onerous. Regardless of why the feeling of unfairness arose, the ways to deal with it are often the same.
First of all, it’s important for dieters to validate their feelings: Yes, dieting is unfair, and it’s not fair that the vast majority of people can’t eat whatever they want whenever they want, and also have the body and health that they want. But unfortunately, that is reality. Dieters need to remind themselves that either way they will feel some unfairness, whether it is because they can’t eat everything they want or because they can’t achieve and maintain the health and weight they really want. And really, which is the bigger unfairness: giving up eating some (not all!) of the foods they want, or never being able reach and maintain a healthy weight, feel good about themselves, be more confident, achieve a sense of pride, etc.
It’s also important for dieters to counter this feeling of unfairness by reminding themselves of just why it’s worth it to them to keep staying on track. This is why we have all of our dieters write out a list of all the advantages of losing weight and read it daily. When dieters have a craving for something and find it very unfair that they can’t give in, it’s so important for them, in that moment, to remember why it’s worth it to NOT give in. When dieters are not thinking about why they want to stand firm and instead are thinking about how unfair dieting is, then it is much, much more likely that they will give in to the craving.
Yes, dieting can be unfair. But the greatest unfairness would be if dieters let this feeling stand in the way of achieving their extremely important goals. There will always be unfairness in life, but dieters don’t have to let overweight be one of them.