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.
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!
This week I had a session with my client, Rob. Rob used to struggle with the common diet trap of making an eating mistake, using that as an excuse to keep making more mistakes (“I’ve blown it for the day. I might as well just keep eating and get back on track tomorrow.”), and then taking sometimes days or weeks to really get back on track. Because of this, Rob was constantly losing and gaining the same 10 pounds. Whenever he was down in weight, at some point he would inevitably make a mistake, which would then snowball into more mistakes, and he would gain weight back. Rob and I have worked hard on the skill of recovering right away from a mistake and fighting against the thought that since he made one mistake, he might as well keep making more. Rob has made great progress on this front and now is usually able to recover immediately following a mistake – he never waits anymore until the end of the day, or the end of the next day, or the end of the week.
When Rob came to see me this week, he told me about an experience he had over the weekend of being at a party, being tempted by the variety on the dessert table, and eating more than he had planned. Although he got right back on track and didn’t continue to overeat (which was really great), it made me realize that Rob has had many such experiences recently. In fact, when I thought about it, I realized that I could identify at least one time every week when Rob would get off track. I asked Rob about this, and he acknowledged that it was true – he was having a lot of off-track moments, although the good news was that he never stayed off track. I had a hypothesis as to why this was happening. I asked Rob if, whenever he was tempted to go off track, he had a thought along the lines of, “It’s okay to overeat because I’ll just get right back on track.” Rob thought about it and realized that the thought he was having was, “It’s okay [to overeat] because I know I can recover.”
Although it was great that Rob had confidence in his ability to recover, it wasn’t great that he was using this as an excuse to get off track. Rob and I discussed the “I know I can recover” thought and came up with a number of reasons why it was worth it to him to overcome that thought and not give in.
1. It reinforced his giving-in muscle. Every time Rob was tempted to get off track and gave in, he made it more likely he’d give in the next time, and the time after that. Every time Rob reinforced his giving-in muscle, he made it harder to stay on track the next time. Even though Rob was able to recover, by exercising his giving-in muscle he was just making it harder on himself to stay on track.
2. It was causing him to take in extra calories. Rob had noticed that in recent weeks his weight loss has slowed considerably, and he realized that all the extra calories he was taking in from his off-track moments was likely a huge contributor of this. Because Rob wanted to go on to lose more weight, he knew it was worth it to try to cut out the off-track moments because they were jeopardizing his weight loss.
3. There were no guarantees that he would be able to recover. Although Rob had gotten so much better about getting right back on track, there was always the possibility that he might not be able to pull himself back and would stay off track. This wasn’t a risk Rob wanted to take.
4. He felt badly about himself when he overate. Rob realized that whenever he got off track, although he recovered right away, he still got down on himself for having overeaten in the first place, and that’s not a pleasant feeling. Rob didn’t want to have to put up with the negative self-talk that always accompanied him making a dieting mistake.
With all of these reasons in mind, Rob felt much more prepared to deal with and overcome his sabotaging thought that it was okay to get off track because he could recover right away. He was convinced that it wasn’t okay!
Read about this trap and more in our new book, The Diet Trap Solution, available for pre-order now.
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.
I described in Part I how I helped Angie make her Advantages List. This was only half the battle, however, and our next job was figuring out how she could get herself to read it every morning. I told Angie that it would be best for her to read her Advantages List first thing in the morning, before she ate anything for the day, and asked her when, during her morning routine, she might be able to incorporate this. Angie decided that it would be best if she kept it on her bedside table and read it first thing in the morning before other people (like her husband and kids) started asking her to do things. I asked Angie if she would mind if her husband saw her list, and she told me that while he was very supportive, her list was private and she preferred that no one else in the family read it. Because of this, Angie decided that she would keep the list in the drawer of her bedside table.
With the list out of sight, I was concerned that Angie might forget to read it, and asked her if she had any ideas on how to solve this potential problem. Angie said that another thing she does every morning before she gets out of bed is take her medication, and so we decide that she would put a sticky note on her medicine bottle, which would cue her to read her list.
After figuring out these logistical issues, Angie and I then discussed what thoughts might get in the way of her reading her list every morning. Angie told me it was possible she might think something like, “I’m too busy/rushed to read my list this morning.” To help combat this thought, I asked Angie to read her list aloud to me in session, and Angie was surprised to hear that it only took her 35 seconds to read the entire list. “Isn’t it worth 35 seconds in the morning if it will help you lose weight and keep it off?” I asked her. Angie agreed that it certainly was worth 35 seconds, and to help her remember that it would only take this short amount of time, Angie decided that she would write the number “35” on the sticky note she was attaching to her medicine bottle.
Angie also identified that the thought, “It’s okay if I skip reading my list this morning, I know what it says,” might get in the way of her reading her list this week. Angie and I discussed this thought and I let her know that, at least for right now, it was not good enough to just think about the items on her Advantages List, she actually has to read it, not only because reading it helps enter it in the brain more firmly but also because Angie needs to prove to herself that she can do it, whether or not she feels like it. With these ideas in mind, Angie made the following Response Card:
“Whether or not I feel like reading my list, do it anyway! It’s an important step in helping me lose weight and besides, it will only take 35 seconds.”
Although Angie didn’t feel comfortable having her list out in the open, she didn’t mind having this Response Card on her bedside table, so she decided to keep it right next to her medicine bottle so she would see it and read it first thing every morning.
With these strategies in place, Angie felt confident that she was off to a good start and would be able to read her list every morning.
The first thing we do with all of our clients is have them write an Advantages List –a list of all the reasons they want to lose weight. We then have them start reading their list every single morning. The purpose behind this skill is two-fold. First, it helps them keep in mind exactly why they’re putting in this hard work and exactly what they hope to get as a result of doing so. Losing weight can be very difficult (although it certainly gets easier over time), which is why it’s critical for dieters to know at all times why it’s worth it to them to work on it. When dieters face temptation (e.g. it’s 4:00 and the cookies in the break room are calling out to them, or they’re out to dinner and the bread basket smells really good) it is extremely hard for them to remember why it’s worth it to stand firm. But when they have a physical list of all of these reasons that they read every single day, it helps keep these important things in the forefront of their minds.
The second thing this skill accomplishes is that it helps dieters begin to build their sense of self-discipline and self-efficacy. When dieters wake up in the morning, their first thought is probably not, “I can’t wait to read my list!” But, in making themselves do it anyway, they start to prove to themselves that if they say they are going to do it (where diet and weight loss is concerned) it means they’re going to do it. Whether or not they feel like doing it, they’re going to do it anyway.
When making an Advantages List, it’s important that the items on the list be as specific and compelling as possible. An advantage like, “my health will be better,” is probably not as motivating as, “I’ll reduce my risk of Diabetes which runs in my family,” “My blood pressure will go down and I might be able to get off medication,” and, “I’ll reduce my joint pain.” Similarly, an advantage like, “I’ll have more energy,” is probably not as motivating as, “I’ll be able to run around with my grandchildren without getting too tired,” and, “I’ll be able to go shopping with my daughter without needing to sit down at every opportunity.” It’s important for dieters to take more general advantages and break them into smaller, more specific ones that paint a clear picture of precisely how their lives will be improved on a daily basis.
I recently started working with Angie, who is works in finance and is a mother of two teenagers. During our first session, this is the Advantages List she came up with:
1. I’ll reduce my risk of Cancer and Diabetes
2. I’ll have less knee and back pain
3. I’ll be able to go hiking with my family and not feel like I’m holding them back
4. I’ll enjoy exercising more (like I used to)
5. I’ll enjoy going shopping and have more options – I won’t have to wear it just because it fits
6. I won’t feel like I have to wear black all the time
7. I’ll prove to myself that I can do this really hard thing
8. I’ll be proud of myself and my family will be proud of me
9. I’ll be setting a good example for my kids of how to have a healthy relationship with food
10. I’ll feel more confident giving presentations at work and not worried about the impression I make on potential clients
11. I’ll fit comfortably in a plane seat and in booths
12. I won’t be embarrassed to run into old friends
13. I won’t be scared scared or mortified of pictures I’m in
14. My clothes and jewelry will fit better
15. I’ll feel better about myself and more in control
In Part II we’ll address how we helped Angie begin to read her list every morning, despite having a hectic schedule.
Have you made a resolution to eat more healthfully and/or lose weight this year? Have you started to lose motivation on that resolution? Many, many dieters make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and keep it off. And very likely, many of these dieters have made this same resolution in previous years and ultimately haven’t been successful. One of the biggest stumbling blocks that dieters face is what happens once they get off track. One of the most common sabotaging thoughts that we hear from dieters is, “I’ve made a mistake. I’ve really blown it for the day so I might as well keep eating whatever I want and get back on track tomorrow.” Of course the danger with this is that tomorrow may never come, or it may end up being next week, month, or even year. And if getting back on track takes that long, likely by the time the dieter has been able to do so, she’s already gained back any weight she was able to lose before she got off track.
We always remind dieters that the most successful dieters and maintainers are not those who never make mistakes (because we’re all human and we all make mistakes). Rather, they are those who make mistakes and immediately get right back on track so the mistake is very minor. In order for dieters to be successful, and in order for this year to finally be the year they follow through with their weight loss resolutions, dieters need to learn to recover right away from mistakes. Otherwise, one mistake will continue to be their undoing, as opposed to a very normal and minor part of their day.
Here’s one technique we use: We first remind dieters that in almost no other area of life do we think that making one mistake is a valid reason to continue making mistakes. Dieters tend to believe the sabotaging thought that, “since I’ve made one dieting mistake, I’ve blown it for the day and I might as well keep making mistakes and get back on track tomorrow.” We give them the following analogies: If you were walking down a flight of stairs and stumbled down a few, would you think, “Well, I’ve really blown it now!” and then throw yourself down the rest? No, you’d get up right where you were and walk down the rest. If you were washing your fine china and dropped a plate, would you think, “I’ve really blown it now!” and throw the rest of your plates on the floor? No, you’d continue washing and treat the rest of your dishes more carefully. If you were driving on the highway and missed your exit, would you think, “Well, that’s it, it’s over, I’ve blown it!” and continue to drive five more hours in the wrong direction? No, you’d get off at the very next exit and turn yourself around. We help dieters see that once they make one eating mistake, continuing to make more is like throwing yourself down the rest of the steps, smashing the rest of your plates, and driving further in the wrong direction. It makes no sense!
We also remind dieters that, if they’re off track, any point along the way they get themselves back on track puts them in a better position. It’s not as if your body stops adding up calories for the day and once you take in certain amount of extra calories, you might as well keep taking in more because your body won’t process them. Of course, that’s not how it works. Your body will continue to process every additional bite that you take, so getting back on track after 500 extra calories is much better than getting back on track after 800 calories, 1,000 calories, 2,000 calories or more.
Additionally, we teach dieters to, once they’ve made a mistake, immediately get problem-solving oriented and not beat themselves up. If a dieter makes a mistake and says to himself, “This is so terrible! I’m such a weak person, I can’t believe I let this happened,” the only thing it will do is demoralize him further and make it harder for him to get back on track. We help dieters view every mistake as an important learning experience and remind them that we learn just as much from challenges as we do from successes. When dieters make mistakes, we teach them to ask themselves three important questions: What happened? What were the sabotaging thoughts I had that I wasn’t able to respond to? What can I do differently the next time? In this way, dieters are actually able to learn from mistakes and decrease the likelihood they’ll make the same ones again.
Once dieters are able to accept that mistakes are a part of life and learn to recover from them right away, they’re able to lose weight and keep it off because they don’t constantly undo all their hard work.
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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