Not having a strong plan can exponentially increase the chances of getting off track because of how many spontaneous decisions you’ll have to make all day.
A realistic strategy is the most important thing to bring on vacation. Eric lists the Sabotaging Thoughts and responses to help him stay on track.
Halloween is just around the corner! It’s important to start thinking about what plans and Response Cards you need to navigate it successfully!
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.
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!
Over the weekend I want to a holiday party. And I got off track. Yes, even professional diet coaches make mistakes. The party started at 2:00pm and I ate (a healthy and satisfying) lunch before I left. My plan for the party was: no alcohol (in part because I was driving) and just raw vegetables (which I was pretty sure they would have), and then once I got home, eat a good dinner and have dessert. The first hour or so of the party went smoothly. I was able to stick easily to my no alcohol rule and I didn’t even go look at the food. Then, a while later, I found myself sitting around the food table talking to people. It seemed like everyone around me was eating from the delicious looking spread. They did have raw vegetables, and for a while I was able to limit myself to just that by placing the bowl of carrots and cauliflower directly in front of me.
But after a while, my resistance seemed to go down and I started eating the junk food. What were my sabotaging thoughts? It wasn’t, “Everyone else is eating it so I can, too,” because I know that my body doesn’t know or care what anybody around me is eating, it only knows what I eat. It wasn’t even, “It’s the holidays and I should be able to indulge,” because I knew that I had many more holiday-related events coming up where I was planning to eat more food than just vegetables. I think it started with, “Just a little bit is okay,” and as frequently happens, a little bit turned into more, and then even more. Before I knew it, I found myself taking chip after chip and even eating the candy that I had already decided I would take home and have after dinner. I was most definitely off track.
And then I remembered a situation one of my dieters was in a few years ago. She was at a party at a bar and got off track by eating too many of the bar snacks being passed around. Instead of just thinking, “I’ve blown it for the party, I might as well keep eating and get back on track when I get home/at the end of the day/tomorrow/the day after tomorrow,” she went to the bathroom, read her Advantages List and Response Cards, refocused, and didn’t eat anything else for the rest of the party. I have recounted this story countless times to my clients as a reminder that it’s possible to gain control in the middle of a party and that they never need to wait even one more moment to get back on track. With that in my mind, I realized that if my client could do it, I could, too. I made the decision that I would get back on track right that moment, and just like my client, not eat anything else for the rest of the party. And that’s exactly what I did.
I ended up staying at the party for several more hours and didn’t leave until after 8:00pm. By the time I left the party, I was hungry again and looking forward to dinner – but I knew I wouldn’t eat it until I got home. As I was leaving the party, I took a moment to reflect back on my experience and give myself a whole lot of credit. I acknowledged how great it was that I was able to get back on track and what a triumph it was that I managed, after getting off track, to stop eating completely and actually leave hungry. What could have turned out to be a bad experience in which I continued to eat off track for the rest of the party (and potentially the rest of the day), and felt really badly about it, turned into a major success. Although I had overeaten earlier in the party, because I recovered and got right back on track, it became an experience I was proud of, not one I regretted.
The moral of the story is that even diet coaches get off track from time to time. We’re not perfect, no one is perfect. But a mistake doesn’t have to be a painful thing. In fact, a mistake that you recover from right away can turn out to be something that makes you feel even stronger and more confident, instead of less, because it gives you the opportunity to prove to yourself that you can bounce back right away. If you get off track during the holiday season, get right back on. Just like my dieter did at her party, and just like I did at mine, you never need to wait even one more moment to get back on track. And remember – the moment you get back on track is the moment you start feeling good again.
Last week I had a session with my dieter, Joe. Joe works in a large office and told me that this time of year, holiday treats are everywhere. Over the past few weeks, Joe had been having a very hard time maintaining control over his sweet tooth and his sugar cravings.
In session last week, I told Joe that one of the strategies that works well for many dieters is to make the decision to have one treat per day. It could be at any time of his choosing, but most of our clients decide to have one treat per day after dinner. That way, they get to look forward to having dessert all day long and it is easier for them to turn down treats during the day because they are able to say to themselves, “I don’t need to have this now, I know I get to have something after dinner.” Joe thought about this and decided that that would work well for him because he really likes to have dessert after dinner with his wife, and so he knew that if he had his one treat during the day, he would really miss it in the evening. Joe and I discussed the fact that if there was something that looked really good at work, he could always take a portion of it home and have it after dinner.
Joe told me that while he realized that having one treat per day, after dinner, was a good plan which would help him get through the holidays without gaining weight, he knew it wouldn’t be easy to stick to. Joe and I discussed what thoughts he might have that would get in the way of him sticking to his plan and came up with Responses to them. Here are the sabotaging thoughts and response:
Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay just this one time to have a treat at the office.
Response: It’s not okay just this one time! Every time matters because every time I’m either strengthening my giving-in muscle or my resistance muscle. If I give in and eat this treat now, I’ll make it so much harder to stick to my plan the next time. This time matters because every time matters so I have to stand firm and strengthen my resistance habit.
Sabotaging Thought: This treat looks really good. I just want to eat it.
Response: While I want to eat this treat right now, I so much more want all the benefits of losing weight. Even though I want it, it’s worth it to me not to eat it right now. Besides, if it’s something I really like, I can always take it home and have it later. It’s not that I can’t eat it, it’s just that I’m not going to eat it right now.
Sabotaging Thought: I can’t resist those cookies – they look too good.
Response: It’s true that it’s hard to resist but it’s not true that I can’t. There is a difference between things that are impossible and things that are hard. Telling myself I ‘can’t’ resist is really just an excuse to give in. I’ve resisted plently of cravings before, and I know I can now, too. Besides, when I give in I feel crappy and when I resist I feel great!
Sabotaging Thought: I don’t want to have to think about healthy eating right now so I’m just going to give in and have this treat.
Response: There’s no such thing as ‘not thinking about it.’ If I decide to ‘not think about it’ and eat the treat now, I’ll definitely think about it a lot later when I’m feeling guilty and badly about my eating. On the other hand, if I do put in the effort to think about it now and resist, I’ll feel so great and proud later that I did.
Sabotaging Thought: Maybe I should have just one cookie right now. I can’t decide
Response: I’ve already made the decision not to have any! There is no decision to be made in this moment. Move on and get distracted with something else.
When Joe came in to see me this week he told that things had been going really well and he was feeling much more in control both during work and after. Joe told me that there were many days that he was tempted to eat treats at the office but by reading his Response Cards each day, he was able to respond to his sabotaging thoughts and resist – and that he always felt so great about it once the craving had passed. What Joe experienced is what many dieters eventually come to experience – he found that not eating the treats (as a result of giving in to a momentary craving) felt even better than eating them because he was able to maintain his sense of control and he didn’t have any guilt or regret about his eating. Joe told me that sticking to his holiday treat plan was often not easy, but it was always 100% worth it.
This week I had a session with my dieter, Audrey, who is having a holiday-themed housewarming party on Sunday. In session we discussed how she would handle this – although we didn’t spend very much time talking about what she would do during the actual party. Over the last few months, Audrey has had a lot of practice going to parties and has gotten very good at doing things like making plans in advance, eating everything sitting down, not taking seconds, reading Response Cards, and saying no to food pushers. Audrey is also a classic secret eating – she is able to control her eating when other people are around and watching, but once she is alone, staying on track becomes much more difficult. Because of this, we knew that the main struggle for Audrey would be staying on track once the party was over and everyone had left, so that is what we focused on in session. Here is the After Party Plan we came up with:
Get rid of as many leftovers as possible. Knowing that she has trouble when she has crunchy, snacky food and sweets lying around the house, Audrey decided that she would send home as many leftovers as she could with her family and friends to minimize what she had left once the party was over.
Assess what leftovers are left and make a plan. Audrey knew that she would make her life much easier if she had a plan for each component of leftover party food and so for each one she would decide whether to keep it, throw it away, or bring it to her office the next day.
Put the office leftovers right into the trunk of her car. Audrey knew that, even if she had a pile of leftovers specifically ear-marked for her office, there was still a chance she would get into them Sunday night if they were hanging around on her counter. Because of this, Audrey decided that out of sight-out of mind was her best strategy and so she would put the office leftovers right into the trunk of her car where she couldn’t see them or easily access them.
Immediately throw away what leftovers she was planning to toss. Audrey knew it might be difficult to get herself to actually throw away certain leftovers, and identified that these are the sabotaging thoughts she’s most likely to have: “I paid for it so I should eat it,” and, “I might have company over again soon so I should save the half box of crackers for then.” To help her overcome these sabotaging thoughts, Audrey made the following Response Cards:
I’ve already paid for the food and so the money is already gone. Eating the food won’t bring the money back, it will just cause me to take in extra calories and gain weight. Just throw it out!
The cost of keeping a half box of crackers is so much higher than the cost of throwing it out and buying another one the next time I have company. If I keep it, I’ll likely end up overeating them, getting off track, and feeling badly and guilty. It’s worth the cost of a new box of crackers to stop this from happening.
Individually portion the leftovers she was keeping and make a plan for when she would eat them. Audrey decided that there were some leftovers that would be worth keeping because she could bring them as part of her lunch over the next week or have them for dessert in the evening. However, Audrey also knew that having large bags of snacks has been problematic in the past, so she decided that she would immediately divide the leftovers into individual portions and then wrap them up. Audrey also knew that having highly tempting food around her apartment with no specific plan of when she would eat it was a recipe for causing lots of struggle, so she decided that she would figure out ahead of time exactly when she would have it. That way, she was much less likely to go overboard when she did eat this tempting food because she would be able to say to herself, “I don’t need to eat more now, I know I can have it again tomorrow. And, if I wait until tomorrow, I’ll enjoy it more because I won’t feel guilty about eating it.”
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it’s high time dieters begin to think about how they’ll handle their eating on that day. While Thanksgiving is considered by many to be a day in which it’s just too difficult to control their eating, it doesn’t have to be that way. When we help dieters formulate their Thanksgiving plan, we always ask them to think about one important thing: How do you want to feel going to bed once Thanksgiving is over?
Asking dieters this question reminds them that the experience of Thanksgiving is not limited to the time when they’re eating with family and friends. The experience also extends to how they feel afterwards. Dieters often have sabotaging thoughts such as, “If I have to limit how much I eat, I just won’t be able to enjoy myself.” If they then overeat, they may wind up feeling sick – physically and psychologically: physically, because they consumed way too much food and psychologically, because they feel out of control and guilty for overeating.
When we ask dieters how they want to feel once Thanksgiving is over, they usually say something along the lines of, “I want to feel full and satisfied and I also want to feel good about myself.” We then ask, ” Will getting off track and overeating on Thanksgiving lead you to feeling that way?” Because the answer is no, we suggest coming up with a plan that will make them feel good. It makes sense to dieters that they simply can’t have it both ways: They can’t way overeat during Thanksgiving and still wind up feeling proud and in control – these are incompatible goals.
We remind dieters, that it’s not all-or-nothing. It’s not as if they can eat every bite of food that they want or they can’t eat any food that they want; in fact, there is a huge middle ground between these two extremes. While it’s true that they may not be able to eat as much of everything they want and still go to bed feeling good that night, it’s also true that they can eat reasonable portions, enjoy every bite that they take, and feel really 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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