According to Research

The findings of a research study published in the August 2011 edition of the Obesity Journal state that “in comparison to leaner individuals, heavier individuals are more likely to overeat when there is a large variety of palatable foods available, but less likely to overeat when there are very few or no such foods available,” while, “leaner individuals reported a relatively low rate of overeating that was fairly constant regardless of the availability of palatable foods.”

This backs up what we found with our dieters –they are much more likely to overeat if they have lots of tempting foods surrounding them and, similarly, when they are having strong cravings, the likelihood of their eating off plan is greatly increased if the food is readily available as opposed to them having to go out and buy it. It’s certainly true that in sessions with our dieters we help them to develop effective resistance techniques so that they are able to coexist with any food and know that they will be able to control themselves. However, we also discuss with our dieters the fact that dieting can be hard, especially when dieters are engaging in the painful struggle of “Should I have this? I know I shouldn’t. But it looks really good. But it’s not on my plan. But I really want some. But you know you’re not supposed to have it, etc.” and it’s often worth it to do what we can to make it easier. To this end, while we never suggest that dieters cut out any food from their diets altogether, it doesn’t mean that they need to have a giant Costco-sized box of it sitting in their pantry, especially in the beginning when they are first learning and practicing new skills.

We also remind our dieters that while they cannot necessarily control what food and treats are in their office break rooms or served at parties and functions, many of them do have at least some control in deciding what food is brought into their homes. In order for dieters to exercise this control, we may initially need to do some work with them so that they feel entitled to make changes in their homes, especially if they have ideas like, “My partner and/or children will be deprived if they can’t have lots of treats available at home.” We may also work with dieters to change their thinking if they have sabotaging thoughts such as, “I can’t throw away (or give away) this food because somebody made it,” or, “It will be a waste of money if I get rid of these treats,” or, “I can’t ask the people in my home to make changes.”  We discuss various strategies with our dieters, like having them try bringing in only single-serving portions of their favorite treats or having their partners keep their junk food out of sight.

Especially now that we are entering holiday season, which means a prevalence of treats everywhere you look, it can be extremely helpful to remove (large quantities of) highly tempting foods from your immediate environment. While holiday season is not created to help people lose weight or maintain a weight loss, it also does not have to be such a huge threat to successful dieting. Whether it means not buying tempting junk food or getting rid of it when it is around, we counsel our dieters to take control wherever they can and limit the number of times a day they have to resist tempting food. And we always ask them: who will really suffer if there is less junk food around? Healthy eating is not just important for dieters, after all.

Thomas, J. Graham, Sapna Doshi, Ross Crosby, and Michael R. Lowe. “Ecological Momentary Assessment of Obesogenic Eating Behavior: Combining Person-Specific and Environmental Predictors.” Obesity Journal 19.8 (2011): 1574-579. Print.

NEW! Beck Diet Solution Newsletter, Diet Workshop, and Weight Loss DVD

Inside my latest Beck Diet Solution newsletter [click here] you’ll find details on our new Beck Diet Workshop, planned for January 29, 2011 at the Beck Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

You’ll also find suggestions on:

  • How to stick to your diet plan and avoid weight gain during the holiday season
  • How to build willpower for keeping up with your exercise program
  • How to obtain the new Cognitive Therapy for Weight Loss DVD.

Diet Hurdles and Bumps Along the Way

Andrea, a dieter I’m counseling, was so glad I had prepared her well for a more difficult time. At her second session with me, I asked her to write a response card to read every morning, in preparation for the first day that dieting would seem hard. It said:

 “Dieting is supposed to get hard. That’s okay. Just keep practicing your skills and it will get easy again.”

 Andrea sailed along all fall, losing weight steadily and fairly easily, and she was gaining confidence. But two weeks ago, dieting got harder. Holiday stress, too busy a schedule, not enough sleep, less control over her food—all these factors made it difficult for Andrea to stick to her plan. But she did! She said if she hadn’t been reading the card all along, she would have given up.

It’s perfectly normal and natural for a dieter–no matter how motivated or “good” of a dieter she or he is– to encounter a few bumps along the road.

In fact, the whole thrust of the Beck Diet Solution program is to prepare dieters for the difficult times. EVERY dieter encounters hurdles; some within the first few days, some (like Andrea) not for months, but at some point, dieting gets harder for everyone. It’s supposed to. (Maybe you’re more stressed, maybe you’re experiencing some physiological changes, maybe you’re feeling less motivated, etc.)

If dieting seems easy initially, it’s easy to get fooled and think it will always be easy. Hurdles don’t necessarily crop up at the beginning. Dieters are often so motivated when they first initiate a diet that they easily arrange their lives to make time for dieting (shopping, cooking, etc.), tolerate hunger, etc., and they don’t really experience a hurdle until their motivation flags or their life changes in some way or they feel more stressed. For other dieters, hurdles are experienced even on the first day.  They might, for example, have sabotaging thoughts such as, “I don’t have time to get the food I need.” “I can’t disappoint my friend by having just one drink tonight.”  It’s important for ALL dieters to prepare themselves for the hurdles they’ll experience. Creating (reading, and re-reading, daily) cards with their own advantages for losing weight and their responses to sabotaging thoughts is crucial to overcoming hurdles.

Spring Holiday Eating


A number of dieters have come to see me in anticipation of the holidays. Here’s what I asked them:


When Passover or Easter is over, how do you want to feel about yourself?


Proud that you followed your holiday eating plan? Motivated and in control? Pleased with yourself?  Confident that you’ll return to your usual eating routine?



Upset that you abandoned your plan, distressed that you gained a significant amount of weight, and unsure that you can get back on track? 


We then discussed, among other topics, four major strategies they could use to maximize the chance that they’ll feel good when the holiday is over. Here’s what I told them.


(1) Develop a reasonable holiday eating plan. 


For example, if you celebrate Easter, you might decide to follow your usual plan but add a specific amount of extra calories for chocolate eggs on several days during the holiday. Or follow your regular plan but allow yourself to eat 500 extra calories during your big family dinner. Your weight loss will slow (unless you’re exercising more) or you may gain a little weight, but so what? You may be able to stick to your regular eating plan better if you know you can splurge a little.


Passover is more difficult, especially if you follow the holiday dietary laws for eight days and have large ritualistic meals. Again, the most important guideline is to figure out in advance what variation of your usual eating plan is reasonable. Trying to stick to your usual plan for every meal is probably unrealistic.


(2) Continue your good eating habits


Even if you’re rushed and life is frenetic, take the time to eat ALL your food sitting down and slowly, while enjoying every bite. Plan your day so you have enough time to do so. Drink a glass of water before you eat and take a few deep breaths to calm down so you can fully enjoy what you’re eating.


(3) Watch out for too much or too little entitlement

A key sabotaging thought is: “It’s a holiday. I deserve to eat whatever I want.” Face the fact that you have a choice. You can eat whatever you want and feel badly about the consequences OR you can stick to your holiday eating plan and feel good about the consequences.


Another key sabotaging thought is: “I have so much to do. I don’t have time to….exercise, sit down to eat, prepare the food on my plan, read my Advantages Cards and Response Cards.” You need to build a sense of entitlement: “I deserve to take the time I need for my important goal of healthy eating, even if other people are momentarily displeased or inconvenienced.”


(4) Get right back on track when you make a mistake


It may be unrealistic to think that you won’t slip up at all during the holidays, especially if your new ways of thinking and your new behaviors aren’t firmly in place. If you eat something you hadn’t planned, tell yourself, “Big deal. I made a mistake. I’m only human. But I’m not going to fall into my old habit of waiting until tomorrow to start again because that has NEVER worked to my advantage in the past. I’m going to get away from food and distract myself in a compelling way until the urge to keep eating goes away.”

Holiday Cookies

choccookies.jpgThis week, our dieter Alex walked into his office kitchen to make a cup of coffee and discovered a big plate of homemade holiday cookies one of his coworkers had brought in.  Seeing and smelling the cookies set up a craving for Alex and he had the sabotaging thought, “It’s ok to have a cookie because it’s holiday time and everyone is eating them.”  Alex had to remind himself that the fact that it’s holiday time is not a reason to eat unplanned cookies, and he’d much rather be thinner.  He firmly told himself, “If I hadn’t walked in the kitchen I would never have seen the cookies and would never have wanted them.  Just make your coffee as planned and leave the kitchen.”  Alex did exactly that, and five minutes later was glad he had resisted. 

This is a good strategy for dieters to employ this time of year when they are faced with a multitude of special holiday foods in stores, at the office, at parties—not to mention the gifts of food they may receive.  Just as Alex did, it’s useful for dieters to remind themselves that if they hadn’t seen the goodies, they may not even have thought of them or wanted them. This helps diminish their sense of entitlement and if dieters can say to themselves, “I only want [this food] because I’m seeing it right now, but I can move on, as if I’d never seen it,” it will be easier to resist.

Holiday Sabotage

Our dieter Eric was having a tough time committing to making a holiday plan.  We went over with him how important it is to have a plan and learn how to follow it. We reminded Eric that it’s fine if his holiday plan calls for eating a set amount more each day or at each event. He probably won’t lose weight, but he’ll maintain or gain only a little—IF he sticks to his plan.  We told Eric that our experience with dieters has been if they don’t plan at all (“I’ll just try to limit myself”) or if they have too loose a plan (“I’ll just have a little bit of everything”), they just gain too much weight. Or if they have a reasonable plan but decide not to follow it (“It won’t hurt if I have this food I hadn’t planned. I can always start again tomorrow”), they gain too much weight. In any case, they feel SO sorry afterwards. 

wine.jpgHis plan is to add one glass of wine and half a dessert, whenever he goes out this month, to his usual intake. He’s also going to add 100 extra calories to his nightly snack any night that he wants to. We think these planned indulgences will keep him from going overboard on any given day.

We have found that dieters sometimes get angry or sad or rebellious at the idea of having to curb themselves during holidays. We always give them the choice. They can decide to eat whatever they want, whenever they want, and have a poorer long term outcome OR they can learn essential holiday planning and eating skills that they can use for the rest of their lives to maximize the chance of a good long term outcome.

Holiday Rules

Holiday time is here and with it come a whole host of potential problems – office goodies, vacations, celebratory meals, festive atmosphere, etc.  As we’ve mentioned before, research shows that successful maintainers eat consistently day to day, regardless of the circumstances.  It’s important to keep in mind this holiday season that your body doesn’t know it’s holiday time!  To your body, a calorie is a calorie, whether it’s you consume it on Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, or any random Tuesday. 

A strategy that helps dieters at this time of year is establishing rules for themselves, such as “I will never eat any goodies that people bring into my office.” Having a rule like this makes avoiding unplanned food so much easier and less painful because, when confronted with such food, dieters never have to go through the struggle that makes dietigingerbread-cutter.jpgng so difficult (“Should I eat this…I know I shouldn’t… But it looks really good… But it’s not on my plan…. But it’s so hard to resist…”).  When dieters automatically say to themselves, “I’m definitely not going to have any. No Choice” they eliminate the struggle and can move on.  (Day 19 of the Beck Diet Solution Weight Loss Workbook)


snowman2.jpg As you read our holiday blogs in the next few weeks, think about the following: You have a choice. You can:

Overindulge over the holidays, feel out of control, and regret your choices (perhaps mightily) when you get on the scale


You can use the skills in The Beck Diet Solution and The Beck Diet Solution Weight Loss Workbook, perhaps plan to eat a little more than usual, stay in control and feel so good about yourself.

If you start to feel deprived, remember that you’re going to be deprived one way or another. You’re going to be deprived of some food (not all food!) OR you’re going to be deprived of getting thinner, feeling better, having more energy, being healthier, being more self-confident, etc., etc., etc. Again, it’s your choice. Which deprivation do you really want in the long run?

In the next few weeks, we hope you enjoy the spiritual significance and all the trappings of this holiday season, including the special foods you plan in advance to eat. Happy Holidays!

Thanksgiving Plan: Rose

thanksgiving.jpgWe’ve talked before in this blog about the importance of always having a plan, but we think it bears repeating, especially with Thanksgiving just around the corner.  We were reminded of this during a session with our dieter Rose last week.  We asked Rose, who is having Thanksgiving with relatives a couple of hours away from her house, what her food plan was for that day.  She responded that she didn’t really have a formal plan but was sure she’d just stay within her normal 1,500 calorie diet that day. 

We asked Rose what would be the disadvantages of making a written plan for Thanksgiving Day (it’s important to make a plan for the whole day, not just Thanksgiving dinner).  Rose admitted that one of the downsides would be that she wouldn’t feel as free to try different foods.  We discussed with Rose the fact that she can’t have it both ways – she can’t eat whatever she wants when she wants it if she wants to lose weight and keep it off.  We asked her if she thought she’d be more likely to stay within her calorie limit if she had a written plan and Rose answered yes, it was much more likely if she had a plan.  Because Rose reaffirmed that her goal is to lose weight and keep it off, she decided she wanted to do everything she can to reach that goal – including making a Thanksgiving plan.  As part of her plan, Rose decided that for this one day she would plan to eat an extra 300 calories, which would allow her to eat a little bit of everything she wants and not feel deprived.  Rose recognized that if she didn’t plan to eat this extra 300 calories, she might not stick to her plan and could end up eating hundreds more than she had planned. 

We also asked Rose to imagine stepping on the scale the day after Thanksgiving.  If she didn’t make a plan, it is likely that she could have gone over her limit by a couple hundred calories (if not a couple of thousand).  Rose envisioned that in this scenario she would feel guilty and weak, and angry with herself for overeating.  If Rose did make a plan, she was likely to stick with it and not over eat. Then Rose saw herself stepping on the scale and feeling proud and happy – and incredibly glad that she hadn’t overeaten. 

With these powerful images in mind, and also with the resolve that she would do whatever it takes to reach her goal, Rose made a written plan for Thanksgiving Day and feels confident that now she will handle the situation with ease. 

Specific Advantages

The Advantages List – a list of all the reasons why people want to lose weight – is one of the most important tools that dieters have to help keep their motivation and discipline high (discussed on Day 1 of The Beck Diet Solution).  This week, our dieter Rose was having trouble figuring out how to make her food plan for a holiday dinner she has coming up.  She was talking about all of the different dishes that would be served and how she would feel deprived if she didn’t get to eat them all.  We discussed with Rose her options: either she could plan to eat a very small amount of a lot of different dishes (in which case she might end up feeling less satisfied both psychologically and physically) or a larger portion of just a few dishes.  Rose said that while feeling satisfied is really important to her, she thinks she’ll just feel too deprived if she doesn’t get to try everything. 

To help, we reminded Rose of several things.  First of all, chances are likely that this won’t be her last opportunity to eat any of these foods. Even if she opts not to eat them this week, they will come up again in the future.  Second we told Rose that if she chooses the first option, to eat small portions of many different things, she very well might still feel hungry but that’s ok.  Hunger is never an emergency and there is always another meal coming. 

Last we had to spell out the reality of the situation: either way Rose is going to be deprived.  Either she’s going to be deprived of eating everything at the holiday dinner, or she’s going to be deprived of all of the things on her Advantages List (being able to move around easily, having self-confidence, feeling better about herself, being healthier).  Either way she’s going to be deprived, and which, to her, would be the bigger deprivation?

One thing that has been helpful to our dieters recently is making their Advantages List more specific.  Instead of just listing, “I want to have more energy,” one dieter instead wrote, “I want to have more energy so I can go up and down stairs easily; so I can get the house in order in the evenings; so I can enjoy going out with friends on weekends without feeling tired.” Specific phrases create clear pictures in dieters’ minds of what they want to achieve.  We got Rose to ask herself: Would I rather be deprived of eating everything at the holiday dinner—or would I rather be deprived of feeling confident when I go to my son-in-law’s birthday party next week, being able to wear a regular sized seatbelt on the plane to Florida next month, and of being able to wear the special black dress I bought three years ago? Put in that way, the answer was clear to Rose. She’s now heading into her holiday dinner with much more resolve and confidence because she knows specifically why it’s worth it to stick to her plan.

We’d love to hear your comments. What specific Advantages do you have?