When a Dieter Becomes her own Diet Coach

 

Whenever I first meet with a new diet client, I always make sure to explain to them that the ultimate goal of treatment is to teach them to be their own diet coach so that they don’t need to work with me for life.  In my work with dieters, there are a few things that really mark a turning point in their progress and which signify that they are on the road to ultimate success. 

One such turning point is when dieters demonstrate that they are becoming their own diet coach.  In a recent session, my dieter, Michelle, really proved that this was starting to happen for her.  Michelle has two young daughters.  Both of their birthdays happen to fall within the same week and both of their favorite treat is Michelle’s homemade chocolate chip cookies.  The afternoon of her first daughter’s birthday, Michelle set out to bake chocolate chip cookies which would be served at her daughter’s birthday dinner that night, in addition to the cake she had bought.  Michelle told me that she made the cookies in the late afternoon (which happens to be one of her more vulnerable times for sugar cravings) and while she was making the cookie dough, she started to get a craving to eat some, despite the rules she’s set for herself: “No junk food until after dinner” and “Eat everything sitting down, slowly, and mindfully.”  Michelle ended up giving in to sabotaging thoughts and mindlessly ate a lot of cookie dough while standing at the counter. 

After this happened, Michelle felt sick from all of the cookie dough she had eaten, and she was angry with herself for giving in to a craving and breaking her rules—especially since she had previously been following them so well.  This afternoon incident continued to stay with Michelle and caused her to feel out of sorts into the evening, resulting in her again giving in to sabotaging thoughts and eating a piece of birthday cake, despite having already had more than enough sweets for the day. 

That night, Michelle realized that she had made several mistakes, and she knew it was worth it to her to figure out how she could correct them, especially since the same situation would reoccur just a few days later for her younger daughter’s birthday.  Michelle sat down and thought about what had gone wrong and why. She realized that one of her first mistakes was not reading any Response Cards or her Advantages List before she started baking, even though she knew it could be quite difficult to resist the sweets.  She also had set aside time to bake during her most vulnerable time of the day, when she is most likely to give in to sabotaging thoughts. Additionally, Michelle didn’t have a clear plan for when she was going to eat the cookies, if any, and how she would balance that with having cake, so she wasn’t able to say something to herself like, “You don’t need to eat any now, you’re going to have one soon enough after dinner.” 

Michelle realized that planning was, indeed, necessary, so she set about making a plan for her upcoming cookie-baking.  This was her plan:

1.  Bake cookies right after lunch when I’m not hungry.

2. Read my Advantages List right before I start baking.

3. Plan to have one cookie after dinner and one half-size slice of cake.  If I want more cookies, I can plan to have one the next day.

4. Remember what happened last time and how I felt.  I want this time to be different!

Michelle also took the time to really think about what sabotaging thoughts got in her way the first time and made the following Response Cards to read with her Advantages List:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few days later on her younger daughter’s birthday, Michelle carried through with her plan and the day went off without a hitch.  When Michelle came into session this week, she told me this whole story and we discussed what an important milestone this was for her.  Michelle had a challenging situation, she sat down and figured out what went wrong, she made new Response Cards in response to her sabotaging thoughts, and she came up with a plan to do things differently the next time.  I reminded Michelle that if we had had a session right after her first cookie-baking experience, I would likely have done almost the exact same things she did on her own.  This really proves that Michelle is fast on her way to becoming her own diet coach.   

It’s important to keep in mind that a big marker of Michelle’s progress is not when she stops making mistakes altogether, because everyone makes mistakes from time to time. The ultimate goal is for dieters to make mistakes and then recover from them right away and figure out how to handle the situation differently in the future, which is exactly what Michelle has done

In Session with Deborah: Tempting Treats

In my last blog post, I detailed a session I had with my dieter, Amy, in which we focused on her mindset and plan for her upcoming birthday.  When Amy returned for her session this week, we first discussed how things went on her birthday.  Amy reported that it had all gone “amazingly well” and that she followed her birthday plan exactly as it was laid out. 

Debbie: Last week we discussed some of the sabotaging thoughts you’ve experienced on previous birthdays.  The thought, “I won’t be able to enjoy my birthday if I stay in control of my eating,” seemed particularly strong. Did that come up this time?

Amy: It did, actually, when I was reviewing my plan before the guests came—I was thinking, “This just doesn’t seem like enough for my birthday.”

Debbie: And were you able to respond to that thought?

Amy: Yes, I did. I reminded myself that I still get to eat two pieces of dessert. . . that I’ll be full after two pieces anyway, and that I really don’t need more food, whether or not it’s my birthday.

Debbie: That’s great! Did reminding yourself about these things help?

Amy: It did, and I also read my Response Cards which helped.

Debbie: Great.  Were there other times throughout the night when you had sabotaging thoughts?

Amy: The only other time was after I had two pieces of dessert. I was looking at this really delicious cake that my sister had made and I was thinking, “I really want to have another slice. I know that cake tastes so good.”

Debbie: What did you do when you had that thought?

Amy: I excused myself and went to the bathroom to read my cards – again.  And I kept thinking, “You won’t be happy when you go to bed tonight if you eat more cake.  You’ve done so well all evening; don’t give in now.”

Debbie:  And so you were able to resist?

Amy: I was, and once everybody left and all the leftovers had been put away, I was really happy I did. 

Debbie: So, this may seem like an obvious question, but looking back – do you regret not eating more cake that night?

Amy: No! Not at all. And it was one of the first birthdays I can remember in which I went to bed not feeling stuffed. . . and instead, feeling really good about my eating. It was great.

Amy did really well on her birthday, although, as we predicted in our previous session, she did experience sabotaging thoughts.  However, because we had taken time in advance to formulate responses to possible sabotaging thoughts and she had taken the time to prepare before her party, she was able to effectively respond to them and not give in.  And, Amy experienced what most dieters eventually find to be true: once the event was over, she didn’t regret not eating more.  In fact, instead of feeling deprived, she felt proud of herself for the things she didn’t eat because she was able to go to bed feeling good about herself and her eating.

Amy next told me about a challenging experience she had later that week.  Two evenings after her birthday, she was reading before bed and found herself thinking about (and having a craving for) the leftover cake that she had wrapped up and put in the freezer after her party.  Amy told me that she struggled for a while about whether or not to give in to her craving, but ultimately her sabotaging thoughts got the better of her; she ended up going downstairs and eating a large piece of cake. 

Amy and I discussed this situation in more depth, including the sabotaging thoughts that led her to give in to a craving that night. Amy realized that one of her strongest sabotaging thoughts was, simply: “That cake was so good.  I really want to eat some of it right now.”  I asked Amy what her plan was supposed to have been for the leftover cake and she responded, “I don’t know, I hadn’t really thought about it.”  Amy and I discussed this further and we realized that one of the reasons she was unable to effectively respond to her sabotaging thoughts that night was because she didn’t have a plan for when she was going to enjoy the rest of the cake. Because she didn’t have a plan, she was unable to say to herself (something like), “Even though I want to eat the cake right now, I’m planning on having it tomorrow, and I can definitely wait until then. Besides, if I eat it tomorrow when I’ve planned to, I will be able to enjoy it so much more because I won’t feel guilty about it.” 

Amy and I then came up with a new rule for her: whenever she has a highly tempting food in her house, she is going to make a plan for when she’s going to eat it. We agreed that this will make it so much easier to resist cravings that arise at any one given moment, because she will know exactly when she does get to eat it. 

This session with Amy is a good example of the importance of both successes and challenging “slip ups”.  Even though Amy ended up giving in to a craving, we learned something very important from her experience. And we were able to figure out an important guideline for her which will help her handle similar challenges more easily in the future.

In Session with Deborah: Do Cravings Really Go Away?

Earlier in the week I had a session with my dieter, Jeremy, during which we talked mostly about cravings. In previous sessions, Jeremy and I had spent time discussing cravings and the fact that they go away one of two ways: either when he decides to give in to them, or when he decides to definitely NOT give in.  Through effort and practice, Jeremy had been able to prove to himself:

  • He is capable of not giving into cravings
  • Cravings go away, and they go away much more quickly when he gets distracted
  • He feels so much better and he is so proud of himself after the fact when he has stood firm

However, when Jeremy came in to see me this week, he told me that he has been struggling more with cravings lately and has been having a hard time making them go away completely.  I asked Jeremy to describe a situation in which this happened, and he told me that over the weekend, he and his wife held a birthday party for their daughter in which they served chocolate cake – Jeremy’s favorite.  Jeremy had planned in advance to have a slice of cake after dinner that night, knowing that he would enjoy it so much more if he ate it then, as opposed to at the party when he was responsible for supervising 18 six-year-olds. 

However, once dinner was over that night and he had had his planned cake and stowed the leftovers in the refrigerator, Jeremy started having a craving for more.  Jeremy was able to accurately label what he was experiencing as a craving (as opposed to hunger) because he knew he was feeling it in his mouth and not his stomach.  In order to combat the craving and distract himself, Jeremy got busy doing things like reading to his daughter, doing household chores, and catching up on one of his favorite television shows. Despite these distractions, Jeremy kept picturing the cake in his mind, beckoning to him from the refrigerator.  Jeremy felt frustrated because although the craving for cake would temporarily go away when he was distracted, it kept coming back throughout the rest of the night.  While he was ultimately able to stand firm (and asked his wife to bring the cake in to share with her colleagues the next day) he felt unsteady because his cravings never really went away that night.

Jeremy and I discussed this situation in session and I reminded him of times in the past when he has had a craving and has definitively said to himself, “No choice, I’m absolutely not giving in,” and the craving went away completely.  Jeremy confirmed that this was true and said he couldn’t figure out why that night with the cake was different.  I asked Jeremy to reflect back on what he said to himself each time he had a craving for the cake.  Did he definitely say to himself, “No way, I’m not having any,” or was it possible that each time he had a craving, he took a moment to consider the possibility of actually having the cake, and then was able to ultimately make the decision to not give in at that time.  Jeremy thought about it and recognized that because the cake was so good, and because it was his favorite, each time he thought about it he probably had a dialogue in his head that went something like, “Maybe I should have a little more cake. Just a little bit won’t hurt, and besides, it’s my daughter’s birthday.  No, you’re not supposed to have any more tonight.  But it was so good and it’s my favorite so maybe just this one time it’s okay.  No, you know that ‘just this one time’ doesn’t work and so you shouldn’t any more tonight.  But maybe it really would be okay, and besides, it would taste so good,” etc.  

Jeremy and I discussed this further and I pointed out to him how different and how much more indecisive that was from how he used to answer to cravings not that long ago.  He realized that the reason the craving probably never went away for good that night was because each time he had it, he gave himself the option of giving in, thus psychologically opening the door to more cravings.  Likely if Jeremy had been able to conclusively say NO to himself (like he has in the past), the craving wouldn’t have kept reoccurring because he would have sent himself the message, “no matter what, I’m not having any more.”   Jeremy left session armed with the knowledge that he can and does have the power to make cravings go away completely, but that one surefire way of making them continue is to think about giving in each time he has one.

Ask the Diet Program Coordinator: Sugar Cravings

Question: I’m in the process of losing weight and have been doing fairly well. However, the one thing that keeps getting to me is sweets!  Somehow, even with all my best intentions to cut out sugar from my diet, I am not able to resist and keep finding myself giving in to the craving for sweets. This seems to happen most in the afternoon or when I unexpectedly come in contact with sweets, like at someone’s house or at a meeting.  Can you help?

Answer: I’m sorry that sweets have been difficult for you, but I do have some suggestions that may be helpful:

1.  It’s important to make sure that you don’t have an all-or-nothing mentality about sweets and desserts.  Often dieters may say to themselves, “Since I have trouble controlling myself around desserts/sweets, I’m just not going to have any.”  This is problematic because if dieters really like sweets, then guaranteed at some point they’ll find themselves eating them (as happens with you), and when they do they may tell themselves, “I don’t know when I’ll allow myself to eat sweets again, so I better eat as much as I can right now while I have the chance.”  On the flip side, if dieters know that they can have a dessert every single day (if they plan for it), then they don’t feel the same sense of urgency to “load up” because  they no longer believe that this might be their last opportunity to eat them. 

2. It is so helpful to plan in advance when you’re going to have dessert and what you’re going to have.  Many of our dieters end up instituting a rule about dessert for themselves:  one dessert a day, and not until after dinner.  Planning to eat dessert after dinner is helpful as it more easily allows dieters to turn down any sweets that they come in contact with during the day because they are able to say to themselves, “I don’t need to have this now, I’m going to have that brownie/cookie/ice cream after dinner.”  If you institute a similar rule for yourself, then you don’t have to worry about what sweets you see during the day because you’ll just know: if it’s not on my plan, I’m not having it.

3. Another important piece of this is to figure out in advance what sabotaging thoughts you are likely to have about eating sweets, and come up with responses to them.  Some common sabotaging thoughts are: Just this one time won’t matter; it’s just a little bit; everyone else is having it so it’s okay; I just won’t have my dessert tonight.  Do any of these sound familiar to you?  Dieters find it helpful when they make Response Cards with responses to these thoughts and read them throughout the day, and especially when they are going into a situation in which they are likely to be tempted.

Here is a sample response:

Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay to have dessert now (before dinner) because I just won’t have it later.

Response: Actually it’s NOT okay to have dessert now because if I do, I send myself the message that it’s okay to not do what I say I’m going to do; it’s not about the calories, it’s about the habit. Every single time I give in to a craving and have dessert before dinner, I increase the likelihood that I will the next time, and the time after that. Every single time I resist, I make it easier to do so the next time. 

4. If afternoons are difficult for you, then it may be a good idea to figure out ahead of time: am I hungry in the afternoons or is this just a craving? If it is hunger, then it may be worth it to plan (in advance!) to have an afternoon snack and make sure that you have that food available.  If it’s not hunger, then it may be worth reading your cards and your Advantages List and remind yourself why it’s worth it to not eat at that time.

And remember: the more you practice this, the easier it will get! The more and more times you prove to yourself that you can stand firm in the face of cravings (even sugar cravings) the easier it becomes to do so.

A Peek inside a Diet Session: Overeating Pizza

My dieter, Jason, had a major victory this week.  He was, for the first time in a long time, able to eat a single slice of pizza and not go on to eat many, many more. In the past, Jason would often order a whole pizza, telling himself, “I’ll only have one or two slices and stop there,” but inevitably he would continue eating until the whole pie was gone. 

In session this week, Jason told me about his triumph and then stated that while he was happy he had only eaten one slice, he did wish that he could have gotten that “happy” feeling from eating the whole pizza.  I asked Jason to think about the last time he ate a whole pizza and how he felt about it after.  Without any hesitation, he immediately replied, “I feel terrible. I feel so mad at myself and guilty.”  Jason and I discussed this idea further, and he came to the realization that the thought of eating an entire pizza is actually much better than the reality of doing so because in his (sabotaging) thinking about overeating pizza, he does not accurately recount how he’ll really feel. 

Jason and I then talked about how he felt after eating only one slice, and how that was different from eating a whole pizza.  Jason realized that, although he did want more, once the pizza was out of his sight he felt really happy and proud that he had only had one slice.  He was actually able to have pizza without feeling guilty about it, because he knew that it was on his plan and that it would help him reach his goals.

Jason made the following Response Cards:

Overeating NEVER feels as good as thinking about it does.  My sabotaging thoughts try to convince me that I’ll love it and feel really happy if I overeat, but in fact, that’s never the case. When I do this, I end up feeling bad, guilty, and angry with myself.

When I stick to only eating one piece of pizza, I actually enjoy it more because I know that it will help me continue to stick to my diet and reach my weight loss goals.

Although I may think ahead of time that having a whole pizza feels better than only having one slice, that is completely untrue because when I only have one slice, I feel proud and good about myself and I get closer to my goals. Having a whole pizza feels terrible and takes me further and further away from my goals.

It’s not all-or-nothing. It’s not as if I can either have a whole pizza or no pizza at all. I can plan to have one slice of pizza when I want to, and in doing so, I get to enjoy the experience of eating pizza AND enjoy the experience of losing weight.

A Peek Inside a Diet Session: Cravings

I recently had a session with one of my dieters centered on cravings and we came up with a “Cheat Sheet” of important things for him to remember about cravings based on his own experiences and new things we discussed in session.  I sent him home with the homework of reading this at least once a day for the next week so that he becomes more and more familiarized with these ideas.  Here it is:

CRAVINGS

Cravings go away one of two ways: either when I decide to definitely give in to it, OR when I decide definitely not to give in to it.

Usually when I’m having a craving there is a sense of anxiety attached to it (Will I give in? Will I stand strong?). The moment I decide one way or the other, the craving starts to diminish. If I decide to give in to the craving, it starts to go away even before I put food in my mouth because the anxiety related to having to make the decision goes away.

Cravings do not just get worse and worse and worse until I can’t stand them.  They will ALWAYS go away, even if I never eat a bite of food.

The more and more times I resist cravings, the easier it will be for me to do so because I build up evidence that proves that I can withstand them and that they do always go away.

At worst, a craving might last 15 minutes, but it will go away MUCH more quickly if I distract myself.

What to do when I’m having a craving:

1. Label it.  This is just a craving, it doesn’t mean I have to give in. Just because I want to eat this right now doesn’t mean I should.

2. Firmly make the decision to NOT give in. 

3. Distract myself.  The moment my attention is on something else is the moment the craving starts to go away. If I’m highly distracted, there is no way I’ll be able to focus on the craving.

Things to try to distract myself: check emails, search the internet for interesting things, take a walk, call a friend, play a word game on my phone.

When I’m having a craving, remind myself, “THIS IS TIME LIMITED.  I will not be feeling this craving forever.”

Every single time I have a craving I have the opportunity to either strengthen my tendency to give in, or my tendency to not give in. This is why every single time matters because every single time will reinforce one of these things.

When I’m having a craving, the more I focus on that craving, the worse it will get.  The more I distract myself, the less and less I’ll think about it.  Just like an itch – the more you focus on an itch the itchier it becomes.  When I get distracted, the itch goes away.

It’s worth it to me to not give in to cravings because it will enable me to get everything on my Advantages List!

When the Struggle Just Isn’t Worth It

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.

Sabotaging Thoughts and Unhelpful Cognitions

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.

 

 

 

Ask the Diet Program Coordinator

We received a lot of great questions after the latest issue of our newsletter went out which is wonderful because it helps us know what you would like to hear about on the blog and in future editions of our newsletter.  Today I’m responding to a question that many dieters submitted to us in one form or another.

Q: Right now I eat in a pretty controlled and healthy way for meals but in between meals I’m struggling a lot to get my eating under control. I eat way too much for snacks, especially in the late afternoons, and it is very hard for me to control it. How can I overcome this?

A:  Sometimes we find that if our dieters are eating too much for snacks, it means that they did not eat enough during meals and/or they didn’t eat enough lean protein and healthy fats to keep them feeling full.  The first thing we suggest is that you look at the content of your meals – are you eating a healthy enough balance of foods?  Yes, vegetables are VERY healthy but if that is all you’re eating for a meal, then no wonder you will want to eat a short time after.

Another thing that could be going on is that you’re not actually hungry, you’re experiencing the desire to eat. This could be for any number of reasons – you’re craving something, you’re stressed, you’re emotional, you’re tired, etc., and there are two very effective tools that you can use to combat this desire to eat.  First, try eating according to a schedule.  You don’t necessarily (right now, anyway) have to decide in advance what you’re going to eat, but decide in advance when you’re going to eat, including snacks between meals.  This way if you’re having a strong craving to eat at 3:00, you can remind yourself that you have a snack coming at 4:00 and you only have to hold out 60 more minutes.

Second, spend some time identifying your sabotaging thoughts and coming up with strong responses to them.  If you’re thinking, “Just this one little snack won’t make a difference,” remind yourself that it absolutely DOES make a difference and that every single unplanned snack counts because it helps reinforce old, unhelpful habits. Try writing these responses on 3×5 cards (we call them Response Cards) and read them every morning with your Advantages List so that they are fresh in your mind when you need to call upon them.  When our dieters have identified a problem time, like in the afternoon or after dinner, we always have them prepare themselves in advance for that time by reading their Advantages List and Response Cards right before so it is most clear in their mind just why it’s worth it to them to resist.

And most importantly – don’t give up!  Dieting is hard work and it takes practice, but the more you do it the easier it gets.   Each and every time you stand firm and don’t eat unplanned food in the afternoon, you increase your chances of resisting the next time, and the time after that, and the time after that.

Holding Out

After dinner and evenings have always been the hardest times for Jamie to maintain her control.  She finds that she has the urge to snack all evening long and often struggles very hard to not overeat after dinner. For Jamie, it wasn’t that she kept getting hungry over and over after dinner; rather she had a very strong and compelling urge to eat at those times which didn’t seem to have much to do with hunger.  Jamie finally sat down to try to figure out what was going on in the evenings so that she could get her eating under control during that time. 

Jamie thought about the rest of the day and realized that it was much easier for her to maintain her control up to and during dinner, and that she was often pretty easily able to stick to her planned meals and snacks.  Upon further reflection, Jamie began to formulate the hypothesis that the reason the day was so much easier for her than the night is because during the day she always knows when her next meal or snack is coming, and therefore she is able to “hold out” until then.  Jamie knows that food tastes better when she is hungry and she enjoys sitting down to meals and snacks with a reasonable degree of hunger.  Jamie realized that her biggest pitfall was not planning her evening snack or snacks well enough (because she would often just have a general plan of having some snack sometime) so therefore she wasn’t able to tell herself to just hold out until the next planned time to eat, because there wasn’t necessarily a next planned time to eat. 

This concept of “holding out” was very important for Jamie because it shows that she clearly has the ability to exert control over herself and her actions.  Jamie realized that it wasn’t that something suddenly overtook her in the evenings which made her want to eat constantly, it was just that subconsciously she didn’t know when her next meal or snack was coming so she wasn’t able to respond effectively enough to the sabotaging thoughts that were urging her to eat.

Once Jamie figured out what was going on, it made figuring out a way to solve the problem pretty easy, and she gave herself a lot of credit for being able to do this. Jamie decided that it would probably work best for her to plan two evening snacks – one a little while after dinner and one right before bed so that she would always have a next snack for  hold out for during the evening and night.