Not enough is written about maintaining a weight loss, and this is a problem because for most dieters, that’s where the real work begins. Losing weight is unquestionably difficult but it comes with enormous positive reinforcement – watching the scale go down, fitting into clothes, getting compliments, etc. Weight maintenance has many fewer new and motivating milestones and it becomes about getting ourselves to keep doing what we’re doing, even though most of the excitement has passed. Read more
We believe that eating dessert, and for many dieters (ourselves included) eating a reasonable portion of dessert every day, is an important part of lifetime weight loss and maintenance. When dieters first come to see us, we always ask them to describe a really good eating day and then a really bad eating day. The majority of them describe a good eating day as one that includes no desserts, and a bad eating day as one that includes way too many. The reason for this is because all-or-nothing (meaning, too much dessert or none at all) is really two sides of the same coin; cutting a food out entirely almost always leads to eventually eating way too much of it. While it’s true that eating no dessert, or being too restrictive in other ways, may help dieters lose weight, being overly restrictive just doesn’t work long term because it’s impossible to stick to forever. And once dieters start allowing themselves to eat the foods they were previously forbidding, they go overboard and gain weight.
We hope you’re more open to the idea that eating dessert in reasonable portions is an essential component of lifetime weight loss and maintenance, but of course the question you’re probably asking is, “But how do I do it?” Learning to eat dessert in reasonable portions is a process and it takes time and practice – but it absolutely can be done.
Yesterday I had a session with Jennifer, whom you read about in our previous blog post. One of the main topics of our session this week was rehashing how it went in her first week of enforcing the “no treats from the office kitchen” guideline. In short: She was awesome! Jennifer was able to stick to the guideline the entire week and didn’t eat a bite of unplanned food while at the office. Jennifer also lost two pounds over the past week, although the primary goal was really for her to at least maintain her weight and feel more in control of her eating. The weight loss was a bonus but the real reward was how on track Jennifer felt all week.
Jennifer told me that she learned a few things last week that she now knows will be integral in continuing to stay on track with her eating this December. First, Jennifer has been bringing all the food she’s planning to eat each day to work with her, so that she doesn’t have the excuse of not having a prepared snack as a reason to go and get something from the office kitchen. While bringing all her food is not always 100% necessary most of the year, during December when the office treats are so much more abundant and tempting, it’s a requisite in helping Jennifer to stick to her plan.
Jennifer also found that reading her Response Cards made a huge difference in helping her resist office treats. Whenever the cravings hit (which usually for her was around 11:00am and 3:00pm) she would first go and read her Response Cards and remind herself, over and over again, why it was worth it to stand firm; how proud she would feel when she did; how eating the treat wouldn’t be as enjoyable as she was imagining it would be anyway because she would definitely feel guilty about it. Jennifer told me that some cravings were stronger than others, but generally they would last for about 15 minutes at most, and many of them lasted for a few minutes or less. Just knowing that she was going to have cravings, expecting it to happen, but also knowing that they would pass, helped Jennifer enormously in getting through them. She reminded herself, “I’m only 15 minutes away from success.” Meaning, in 15 minutes (or less!) Jennifer would be exactly where she wanted to be – on track and feeling great.
Jennifer and I also discussed that, while there were some hard moments every day in resisting the office treats, most of the time she felt relatively at peace in terms of her food cravings. This is very different from when we first started working together. When Jennifer first came to see me, she was in a self-described state of “mental anguish” most of the time. She was constantly fighting food cravings and feeling badly about what she was eating, feeling out of control, and very worried about her weight. The only periods of relief she had from this was when she was actually eating, but most of the time it was really hard. Now just the opposite is true. Most of the time Jennifer feels good about what she’s doing, punctuated by moments of its feeling really hard when her cravings hit, but the vast majority of hours are ones in which she feels at peace. Jennifer has gained an understanding that those hard moments are the price she pays for feeling calm most of the time, and it is a cost she is 100% willing to pay.
With one really strong week under her belt and additional knowledge and experience to apply to this week, Jennifer is feeling more armed and ready than ever before to take on the office kitchen.
This week I had a session with my client, Jennifer. Jennifer told me about a very troubling email she got from her work a few days ago. The email said that, for the entire month of December, her office was organizing a system in which people would sign up and one person would bring in a treat every single day. Jennifer told me that when she read this email, her heart sank because she knew that all it meant was that there would be so many tempting and potentially sabotaging treats around for an entire month.
I first reassured Jennifer that she absolutely could handle this situation, but what she needed was a really strong plan and some helpful Response Cards. Jennifer and I discussed possible plans for how she would handle this influx of office treats, and she decided that the plan she’d like to work on would be to not have any treats at the office, but if it was something she really wanted, bring a portion of it home and have it after dinner in place of the dessert she usually had. Jennifer thought that this was the best plan because she told me that she passes the office kitchen at least several times a day when she goes to pick up something from the printer, and she didn’t want the burden of, each time she passed, having to decide whether or not to have a treat (and therefore having to work on resisting it).
I reminded Jennifer that the good news was that this plan was entirely doable, as long as she was properly prepared. Eating is not automatic, so it would never be the situation directly that would mean Jennifer didn’t stick to her plan, it would be her thinking about the situation. It wouldn’t be the fact that Jennifer was having a bad day and wanted to treat herself with sugar that automatically meant she gave in and had a treat at the office, it would be her saying to herself, “Because I’m having a bad day, it’s okay to eat a treat at the office to make myself feel better.” I discussed with Jennifer that what we had to do was, as best we could, think through all the situations and accompanying sabotaging thoughts she might have over the next month and come up with responses to them so that she would know exactly what to say to herself when the situation arose.
Here are some of the thoughts and responses that Jennifer and I came up with:
1. I’m having a hard day so I deserve a treat.
2. I’m just going to give in and have this treat.
3. This treat looks so good. Just give in and have it.
4. This treat looks so good; I want to have it.
5. I can’t say no to the person pushing food on me.
6. I’ll just have some now and then I won’t have any dessert after dinner.
As a second part of the plan, Jennifer committed to reading these cards at least twice a day for the next month (first thing in the morning and again after lunch) plus anytime during the day when she felt vulnerable. With a strong plan and strong responses, Jennifer felt much more ready to take on the month of December.
We asked our Facebook Community for their favorite tips and tricks for sticking to their plan during the holiday season. Here are our favorite tips:
- Make Holiday-specific Response Cards (and maybe a Holiday-specific Advantages List detailing why it’s worth it to stay on track during the holidays) and read them multiple time a day, every day.
- Bring healthy alternatives to holiday parties and events and challenge yourself to try new, healthier recipes.
- Remember that the holidays are not just about eating. Work on finding non-food related ways to celebrate the holidays.
- Send guests home with the leftovers and get rid of anything else that’s really tempting (or make a plan for exactly when and how much you’ll have).
- Write out plans for how you’ll handle holiday meals and events. If things don’t go according to plan, take time after to figure out why it happened and what you can do to stay on track the next time.
- Don’t skip meals during the holidays to “save” calories. Doing so means you’ll likely go into holiday meals very hungry and also with the thought, “It’s okay to eat [a lot] extra because I skipped lunch.” When dieters have that thought, they often eat way more calories than they would have if they had a healthy lunch and a reasonable dinner.
- The holidays are a busy time for most people, but also a stressful time. When dieters get busy, they sometimes drop their stress-relieving activities (like exercise, meditation, talking to friends, etc.) and so they’re much more likely to turn to food to alleviate stress. This holiday season, make sure you have built-in stress relievers!
- Portion control, portion control, portion control. Put forth the time and effort to really savor everything you’re eating and you’ll get so much more enjoyment from less food.
- If you’re feeling deprived, remind yourself that it’s likely because you’re focusing on what you’re not getting – extra food, not on what you are getting – all the benefits of staying on track. If you feel deprived, change your focus.
- Don’t stop weighing yourself, even if you’re afraid you’ve gained weight. Avoiding the scale will allow you to continue to avoid doing what you know you should do. Taking accountability will make it easier and more likely that you’ll be able to get back and stay on track.
One of the biggest challenges that makes staying on track with healthy eating difficult during the holidays is what dieters find when they walk into their office kitchens. The fact of the matter is, it often seems like there is extra (tempting) food everywhere during the holidays, but the office kitchen is definitely one of the biggest culprits. We’re not going to sugar-coat this (no pun intended): managing the office kitchen during the holidays is difficult but it absolutely can be done with three key elements:
- A really good plan
- Strategies to put that plan into action
- Extra determination
The first part of managing the office kitchen is having a plan. For most dieters, it almost never works to just “wing it” (meaning, go into a situation without a firm plan and with the thought that they’ll just figure it out when the time comes) but this is especially true during the holidays. When there are so many extra temptations around, having a clear plan is critical. When making a plan for treats at the office, it’s important that your plan is both reasonable and realistic. If your plan is too restrictive or unreasonable, then ultimately you won’t be able to follow it anyway and will likely end up throwing it out the window and eating way more than you would have, had you made a more reasonable plan that you were able to stick with.
Some of our clients have plans such as: one reasonable treat a day from the office kitchen; one treat every Friday; one treat every other day; etc. A plan that we, ourselves, use and that many of our clients have since adopted is this: no treats from the office kitchen ever (unless it’s an office party). If there’s something in there we really want, we take a portion home and have it after dinner. This plan works so beautifully for us. It makes it so much easier to resist treats at work because we’re able to remind ourselves, “It’s not that I’m not having this food, I’m just not having it right now. But I absolutely can have it later, and when I do, I’ll be able to really enjoy it fully without guilt.” It also works well because we only bring home one portion at a time so even if we really want more when we’ve finished, there’s no more to be had!
Once you have your plan, you then need strategies to help you stick to it. One extremely helpful strategy is to make Response Cards for any sabotaging thoughts you think you’re likely to have about sticking to your plan. Here are some sample sabotaging thoughts and Response Cards.
Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay just this one time to not stick to my office holiday treats plan.
Sabotaging Thought: I’m going to eat this unplanned treat because I just don’t care.
Sabotaging Thought: It’s too hard to stick to my plan.
Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay to eat [this unplanned treat] because everyone else is.
Just making Response Cards and looking at them every once in a while is probably not good enough during the holidays. Once you have your cards, it’s important to start reading them every day, at least once a day, as a matter of course. Doing so will start cementing these helpful thoughts in your head. In addition to reading them once a day, consider reading them again during difficult moments at work. If, for example, you know that 4:00 is a vulnerable time for you, set an alarm on your phone and read your cards again every day at 3:45. Or if you know going into the office kitchen to get your lunch puts you in direct contact with tempting treats, read your cards right before venturing into the kitchen.
Another strategy that can be helpful in dealing with office treat cravings is to have distractions at the ready. Remember that cravings really are like itches in that the more you pay attention to them, the worse they get. The moment you get really distracted is the moment the craving goes away. Having a list of distracting activities to try when a craving strikes can help you even more quickly turn your attention to something else. Some potential distractions are: take a walk, go talk to a co-worker, call a friend or family member, write an email to someone, check news or sports headlines, look at social media, do a crossword puzzle or Sudoku puzzle, read your Response Cards, read a blog post, online shop, and so on.
You may also want to pay attention to how long your cravings actually last. Most of the dieters we work with tell us that their cravings usually last somewhere between three to fifteen minutes. Even if your craving lasts a full fifteen minutes, it will eventually go away. Seeing how long they last can help you remind yourself that the discomfort is temporary, and that you’re only x minutes away from success.
We know that office treats are tough to handle, but the more you work on it, the better you will get. Make a plan, make Response Cards, and have distractions ready. Then you’ll be ready to do battle and win!
Everyone knows that it’s harder to stay on track with healthy eating during the holidays, and most people assume that it’s because there are so many more parties, eating events, and treats out during this time. While that’s accurate, it’s only part of the picture. The truth is that what really makes the holidays so hard are the sabotaging thoughts that people have that they aren’t able to respond effectively to. It’s never a party that directly gets someone off track, it’s when she has sabotaging thoughts while at the party, like, “I won’t be able to have fun unless I indulge.” Learning to identify, in advance, what sabotaging thoughts you’re likely to have and coming up with responses to them ahead of time is the missing link between wanting to stay on track during the holidays and actually being able to do so. Below are four of the most common diet sabotaging thoughts that we hear and some helpful responses to them. If you find any of these responses helpful, consider making your own Response Cards and reading them every single day from today until January 1st.
1. I only get this food once a year.
When dieters are telling us about a holiday meal that didn’t go as well as they’d have liked, part of the problem tends to be that they overate food and justified it with the thought that they “never get this food” or “it’s the only time of year I can eat it.” The truth of the matter is that in this day in age, there is almost no food that can’t be bought, ordered, or made 365 days a year. While it’s true individuals many never think to make a certain food at other times during the year, or only come in contact with it organically during the holidays, that doesn’t mean that they can’t find/make/buy it at other times. Also, it’s good to keep in mind that it’s true the holidays are only once a year, but they’re once a year every year, so it’s never the last opportunity to have something. While it is certainly fair to eat reasonable portion of favorite holiday foods, it doesn’t work to go overboard on those foods. Reminding yourself that you never need to overeat a food because you can and will have it again can help you stay on track around favorite holiday foods.
2. I have to do things the way I’ve always done them or someone will be disappointed.
Dieters often put themselves in traps when thinking about the holidays. They think that they have to do things the way they’ve always done them or there will be negative consequences, such as disappointing someone or themselves. The truth of the matter is that they way they’ve always done things probably just doesn’t work, not if they’re trying to stay on track with their eating during the holidays. If dieters want this year to go better, it means they have to do things differently. While it’s true that others may be temporarily disappointed if you, say, decide to only make three kinds of Christmas cookies instead of ten, or go out and buy some holiday food to save yourself the time and energy of making it, it’s likely that the disappointment won’t be as great or as long-lasting as you’re fearing. And they’ll get over it, probably in much less time then it will take you to lose the extra pounds you put on as a result of not making changes. It’s important to keep in mind that traditions can always be changed and new ones can always be instituted. If you start the tradition this year of taking a walk after Thanksgiving dinner instead of picking at leftovers, in few years that will start to feel like a time-honored tradition – and one that will help you reach your goals instead of taking your farther away from them.
3. I’ve already been messing up, I’ve blown it so I’ll just wait until the New Year to get back on track.
This is a thought that often plagues dieters who start out trying to have a healthy holiday season, get off track at some point, and just decide that their efforts are wasted and they might as well wait until January 1st to start working on healthy eating again. We are here to tell you: Don’t buy into that thought! And here’s why: First of all, it is impossible to blow it for the holiday season. It just doesn’t work that way. It is possible to get off track at one party, and then get off track at the next, and then get off track again at the third. But it’s also possible to get off track at one party, recover, and do fantastically well during the rest of the parties. There is always, always the option of recovering and making the rest of the days until January 1 great days. And in doing so, it means that you don’t gain weight (or gain less weight), start out the New Year in a much stronger position, and likely have a happier holiday season. Remind yourself – just because you were on the highway and missed your exit, it doesn’t mean you have to spend the rest of the day driving in the wrong direction. You can always get off at the next exit, turn around, and get right back on track. The same is true with dieting. Just because you make a mistake, you can always catch yourself, recover, and get right back on track. In the same way you wouldn’t’ keep driving in the wrong direction, don’t keep making mistakes!
4. I won’t be able to enjoy myself during the holidays if I have to work on healthy eating.
In reality, the opposite of this thought is usually true. When dieters decide to throw healthy eating out the window and get off track, it actually puts a negative tint on the holidays because they spend time feeling badly about their eating, worrying about gaining weight, and dealing with the nagging knowledge that they’re going to have to face up to all this in the New Year. By contrast, when dieters work on staying on track, it often helps them feel so much better during the holidays because they feel confident in themselves and what they’re doing. No one (at least no one we’ve ever met!) has ever gone to bed after a really great, on-track eating day and thought, “Well, I shouldn’t have done that.” It just doesn’t happen!
I’ve been working with my client, Rachel, for about a month. In session last Thursday I found out that one night earlier in the week she had gotten into her kids’ Halloween candy and ended up eating way too much of it. Rachel told me that this made her feel really terrible and made her question whether or not she could even do this thing (i.e. lose weight and keep it off). It was clear to me that Rachel was being extraordinarily hard on herself about making this mistake and she was catastrophizing, thinking that because she messed up once it meant she couldn’t ever get it right.
I first reminded Rachel that learning to diet really is like learning any other skill and that mistakes are an inevitable part of any learning experience. I asked Rachel if there was another skill she has learned in which she wasn’t terribly hard on herself when she made a mistake. Rachel told me that several years ago she taught herself to sew. “I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning and none of my early pieces turned out exactly how I wanted them to.” I asked Rachel what she did when this happened, and Rachel said that she just took time to figure out what went wrong and how to correct the mistakes the next time. “And imagine if every time you made a sewing mistake, you told yourself how terrible that was and questioned whether or not you could ever really learn to do it.” “I probably would have given up,” she told me. But because Rachel was accepting of those mistakes, she learned from them, got better, and eventually learned to sew everything she wanted to.
The reality is that thinking she’ll never make a dieting mistake is just as far-fetched and detrimental as it would have been if Rachel thought she should have learned to sew without ever making a mistake. I also asked Rachel how long she’s been struggling with her weight. “It seems like my whole life,” she told me. “At least 30 years.” I reminded Rachel that she’s only been working on these new ideas for a month¬ – and asked her if it seemed realistic to expect that she would get everything down perfectly in 30 days, after over 30 years of not doing these things. “No,” she admitted with a laugh.
I knew that it was important for Rachel to recognize ahead of time that she is going to make mistakes and she can’t have the expectation that she’ll be perfect. If she expects to be perfect, then each mistake will feel like a huge failure and demoralize her greatly. And the more demoralized she feels, the harder it will be to get back on track. If, by contrast, she makes a mistake and is kind and accepting towards herself, she’ll be in a much better position to recover immediately.
Rachel told me that she understood what I was saying but still didn’t think that she would be able to remember it when she made a mistake. I agreed with her that just hearing this one time in session likely wouldn’t make that much of a difference. What she needed to do was write down these ideas and practice reading them every single day. The more she reads them, the more they will get in her head, and that’s when it can really start to make a difference. Rachel made the following Response Card and committed to reading it every single day for the foreseeable future:
I’ve been working with my client, Joe, for a few months and he has been doing exceptionally well at getting his eating under control. When I saw him last week, he told me about a number of events he had been to over the past week and described how well he had done at them. As I was listening, I noticed that he said one phrase multiple times: “And I didn’t have any dessert.” I asked him about this, and Joe told me that the few times he tried to have dessert he ate way too much, so now he just doesn’t have it at all.
I discussed with Joe that while this may work as a short-term strategy, avoiding dessert would very likely not enable him to lose weight and keep it off long-term. The reason for this is because Joe is being all-or-nothing about dessert – either he doesn’t have any or he has too much. While it has (temporarily) been working for Joe to have no dessert, I knew he wouldn’t be able to stick to that forever. Joe really likes dessert, and so it’s practically a guarantee that at some point he’s going to get very tempted and end up having some. And if he doesn’t know how to stay in control, he’s going to eat way too much, reinforce bad habits, get off track, and jeopardize his weight loss and his sense of control. I also didn’t want Joe to be fearful going into dessert situations, wondering whether or not this would be the time he wouldn’t be able to resist. I knew that if Joe didn’t learn to eat a reasonable amount of dessert, he would continually boomerang between having none and having too much, which would likely eventually lead to weight gain.
I told Joe that I thought it was really important for us to start working on him having reasonable portions of dessert, and although he was wary, Joe agreed to try. I asked him if there was a dessert opportunity coming up this week, and he told me that he was going to a barbeque over the weekend that would almost certainly have a table full of desserts.
Joe and I then spent the rest of the session preparing him to go to the barbeque and have one dessert. We first discussed some strategies: Joe would look at all the desserts before deciding what to have, he would put whatever he was going to eat on a plate, and he would sit down and eat it very slowly and mindfully, savoring every bite. Joe and I then discussed what he wanted to say to himself before and after he had his one dessert, to ensure that he was able to maintain his control.
Before he ate dessert, Joe decided that he would read his Advantages List and remind himself why it was worth it to limit himself to just one. After he ate dessert, Joe decided that he would read the following Response Card:
Joe emailed me Saturday night and told me that the barbeque was a success! For one of the first times in recent memory, Joe was able to face an entire spread of dessert and not be all-or-nothing about it. Joe said that reading his Advantages List and Response Card greatly helped him keep his head in the right place and he left the party feeling so proud of himself. Joe agreed to keep working on the skill of having one dessert and knows that this will help him ultimately keep weight off for good.
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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