Especially during stressful times, unexpected food is an inevitable obstacle. These guidelines will provide structure and advice for making smart eating decisions for any unexpected food in your house.
It’s not always reasonable in every situation to lose weight, or even to maintain weight. If the scale goes up, it doesn’t mean you didn’t do well; it just means it wasn’t reasonable not to gain a little.
If you’ve gotten off track with your New Year’s resolution, this is exactly what you need to do, too! Stop expecting yourself to do everything and instead figure out what feels completely doable this week. Recommit to it, do it (and give yourself so much credit for doing so!), and then add one or more things next week.
Make a reasonable vacation plan and stay committed to being in control. You’ll feel successful throughout your trip and enjoy new, exciting foods.
Creating a plan allows you to eat a reasonable amount, enjoyed the food you eat, and feel proud of yourself for making healthy decisions. Learn what Kate could have done before attending a potluck dinner to make a helpful plan for her eating.
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!
My client, Deanna, just came back from a week-long trip and something great happened upon her return: She found out she lost a pound and a half. In almost every previous trip Deanna had taken, she had gained weight, and sometimes a significant amount of weight, so this was an entirely new experience for her. In session this week, Deanna and I talked about everything she had done that made the trip so successful so that she could remember it for next time.
- Deanna told me that the first thing she did was take time before she left (which she partly did in session with me) to really think through the trip and make a plan for how she would handle her eating. Never before had Deanna had a deliberate plan for what she would eat while traveling; she always just had the idea that she would “wing it” and try to make good decisions. Having a written plan of how she would handle her eating, and reviewing that plan each and every morning, really enabled Deanna to stay in control of her eating while traveling. Deanna’s written plan had the following components:
- Bring healthy food for the airplane
- One glass of wine every other night
- ½ a piece of bread and half my starch at dinner
- Ask for fruit instead of potatoes at breakfast
- Try to have some type of salad for lunch
- No dessert before dinner and ½ dessert after dinner, or dessert every other night
- Deanna told me that, since she was eating more caloric meals than she normally did (because she ate almost every meal at a restaurant), she didn’t snack during the trip.
- Deanna also made it a top priority to be active on this trip. She made it a goal to go to the fitness center in her hotel at least three times during her seven day trip, and made sure to take opportunities for spontaneous exercise whenever possible, like taking the stairs instead of elevators, walking around the airport instead of sitting at her gate, walking places instead of taking cabs (when possible), etc.
- Deanna gave herself lots of credit during the trip whenever she made a healthy decision. Instead of focusing on everything she wasn’t eating, she made sure to tell herself how great it was that she way staying on track, and how resisting food would help her reach her important goals. In doing so, Deanna was actually able to feel good about staying on track because the focus was on what she was getting, not what she was giving up.
- When Deanna got home and saw that she hadn’t gained weight, hadn’t even maintained her weight, but had actually lost weight, she captured how great she felt on a Response Card to read before every trip in the future.
For the first time that I can remember, I actually lost weight while traveling. This feels SO AMAZING. Although there were times on the trip it felt difficult to make healthy decisions, now that I’m back I don’t regret a single thing that I didn’t eat or drink. I just feel so proud of myself and have such an huge sense of accomplishment. It was 1,000% worth it.
My client, Jason, works long hours and isn’t much of a cook. When he gets off work and wants dinner, his options are usually pretty limited. Jason often winds up going to a drive-through restaurant, and he doesn’t usually make the healthiest choices. Jason told me that while there are healthy (or, at least, healthier) options available, he has a hard time sticking to them when the time comes to place his order.
In previous sessions, Jason and I had spent a lot of time talking about how he can stay in control when he eats out with friends. Although Jason used to have very big and very caloric meals every time he went to a restaurant, in the past few months he has made a lot of progress in making healthier choices and not finishing everything on his plate.
In session, Jason and I discussed what strategies he has been using to stay on track at restaurants to see if any of them would translate to the drive-through. Jason told me that the most effective strategy for him has been to look at the menu ahead of time and decide what he’ll have, and then not even look at the menu once he gets to the restaurant. He also has a Response Card that he reads before he goes out to eat:
Every time I stick to my healthy choice I feel great after eating. Every time I veer off track and order something else, I feel guilty after eating. Sticking to my healthy choice not only enables me to lose weight, but it makes me feel so much better.
Jason and I discussed this further and realized that this same exact strategy would be very helpful for him when going through drive-thoughs, too. Jason decided that he would make it a policy to look at the drive-through menu online before he left work at night and decide in advance what to have. When he got to the drive-through window, he would then place his order without looking at the posted menu, just as he does in restaurants.
Jason also came up with an additional strategy: Since he tends to frequent the same drive-throughs, he decided that for each one he would come up with a few different meal combinations and record them in his phone. That way, if he was in a rush to leave work, he wouldn’t have to spend time looking up the menu, he could just pick something from his phone. Jason also made the following Response Card to keep in his car and read when he was waiting in line to place his order:
I’ve already decided what to order so I don’t even need to look at the menu or consider what else I might want. The decision has been made, and sticking to this decision will make me feel so much better. It’s worth it.
With these strategies in place, Jason was finally able to stay in control both when eating out in restaurants and when going through the drive-through.
In my work with dieters, I find that many of them tend to fall into either the category of “Social Eaters” or “Secret Eaters.” Social eaters are those who have a lot of trouble staying in control when they are out and eating with other people. They are highly influenced by what everyone around them is eating and drinking and often feel deprived if they don’t eat in the same way. By contrast, secret eaters often have a much easier time staying in control when they are eating in front of other people and tend to lose it when they are back at home, alone. Regardless of which type of eater you may be (and some dieters fall into both categories), your greatest defense is figuring out in advance what sabotaging thoughts you’re likely to have in either situation and come up with responses to them. Here are some examples:
Social eating sabotaging thoughts
Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay to eat this because everyone around me is eating it.
Response: My body doesn’t know or care what everyone around me is eating; it only knows what I eat. So just because everyone around me is eating a lot, doesn’t necessarily mean that I can.
Sabotaging Thought: I’ll be deprived if I can’t eat what everyone around me is eating.
Response: Either way I’m deprived. Either I’m deprived of some food some of the time (but not all food, all of the time), or I’m deprived of all the benefits of losing weight. Which would be the bigger deprivation?
Sabotaging Thought: It’s not fair I can’t eat normally like everyone else.
Response: I have to redefine my definition of “normal” eating. In fact, I am eating 100% normally for someone of my age and my gender with my weight loss goals.
Secret eating sabotaging thoughts
Sabotaging Thought: I was so good when I was out and there so much food I didn’t eat, so it’s okay to eat this now.
Response: My body doesn’t know all the food I didn’t eat, it only knows what I do eat. So just because I turned down lots of food before doesn’t mean that I can eat extra now.
Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay to eat this because no one is watching.
Response: Although it may feel okay to eat extra because I’m alone, the reality is that my body doesn’t know if 100 people are watching me eat or if no one is watching me eat, it processes all calories the same. So it’s absolutely irrelevant whether or not I’m alone when I overeat – overeating is overeating.
Whether you’re a social eater or a secret eater, another helpful technique is to make a plan, in advance, of what you’ll eat in those situations. For social eaters, if you know you’re going out to dinner with friends, decide in advance what you’re going to eat and then respond to sabotaging thoughts in the moment to ensure that you stick to your plan. Remember that, if you want to lose weight, what everyone else around you is eating has no bearing on what you eat. Stick to your plan and you’ll be so happy, once the event is over, that you did.
For social eaters, plan in advance what, if anything, you’ll eat when you arrive back home. If your plan is to eat nothing, avoid the kitchen entirely. If your plan is to have either a snack or a mug of hot tea when you get home, get everything together before you leave (for example, put a tea bag in a mug on your table) so that way when you get home, it will be easy to remember exactly what your plan is and you won’t have to go rooting in the cupboards. Respond to sabotaging thoughts that would encourage you to eat something you hadn’t planned to eat. Stick to your plan and you’ll be so happy, once the night is over, that 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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