Regaining Momentum: Jenny

Our dieter Jenny has been going through a rough time because her step-mother (whom she was very close to) passed away recently.  Jenny was having a very tough time staying motivated to stick to her diet.  She told us that although she’s still reading her Advantages List every day (Day 1 of The Beck Diet Solution), most of the items no longer feel important to her. “What does being thinner really matter anyway, compared to my step-mother’s death?” she asked us. 

To help Jenny, we asked her to imagine her life a couple of months from now and consider how she might feel then.  She was able to see that while being thinner doesn’t feel important to her right now, it will later on. We asked for some specific examples of when it might feel important. Jenny said that she had a special meeting coming up and that she did want to feel more self-confident for it. She also told us about a high school reunion that will take place soon and that it felt important to her to be thinner and more self-assured  when meeting her old classmates. 

We also asked Jenny to reflect back on what her life was like before she lost weight and consider how being thinner positively impacts her life today.  Jenny thought about it and realized that even now, among other things, she did enjoy being able to fit comfortably into chairs, being able to move around easily without getting tired, and she certainly enjoyed the fact that her weight loss enabled her to stop using her sleep apnea machine.

Jenny concluded that even though sticking to her diet had currently stopped feeling important to her, it was only temporary and she definitely would care in the months and years to come.  She also realized that she never wanted to go back to how things were before she lost weight, and that alone was enough to bring back her motivation and sense of purpose. 

Making Time: April

One of our dieters, April, was having trouble this week finding time to get to all of her shopping-cart.jpgdiet activities: sitting down to a proper breakfast, preparing lunch to take to work, cooking dinner, and going to the supermarket. April’s sabotaging thoughts kept getting in the way: “I’ll go to the supermarket tomorrow;” “I’d rather read the newspaper than fix a lunch to go,” “If I grab some fast food on the way home, I’ll have more time to email my friends tonight.” April hadn’t truly accepted the necessity of making time for dieting. We stressed the importance of prioritizing her time, of fitting the rest of her life around dieting activities (Day 8 of The Beck Diet Solution), not vice versa. We discussed doing her dieting activities first, then using reading, gardening, and watching television as rewards.

For now, April has to put all of her dieting activities at the very top of her priority list, and not do anything that’s lower on the list until she’s completed them.  That means no reading the newspaper in the morning until she’s prepared her breakfast and lunch, no gardening on the weekends until she’s made her weekly trip to the supermarket, and no watching television at night until she’s completed her food plan for the next day.  We also discussed that these dieting activities will soon become second nature; if April pushes herself now to respond to her sabotaging thoughts and change her habits, dieting will get easier and easier.

Emotional Eating

Our dieter Rose has a very stressful situation coming up this week and so we spent a lot of today discussing emotional eating and strategies for not falling prey to it. Lots of dieters are like Rose. They feel entitled to eat when they’re distressed. “If I’m upset, I should be able to eat.” Often, they feel as if they don’t have a choice. “If I’m upset, I have to eat.” It’s important for them to recognize that people without a weight problem usually do not turn to food when they’re upset. They try to solve the problem, turn to others for support, distract themselves, or simply tolerate the feeling.

These are the strategies that Rose needs to learn. But first, she needs to label her experience. “I’m not hungry. I just want to eat because I’m upset. But if I eat, it will only be a temporary ‘fix.’ I’ll feel so much worse afterwards.”

Ultimately, we want Rose to learn that she doesn’t have to do anything when she’s upset. Negative emotions won’t harm her and they’ll subside even if she does nothing. But as an intermediate step, we advised Rose to make a long list of things she can do to comfort or distract herself, such as taking a walk, checking her email, calling her best friend, writing in a journal, listening to a relaxation tape, and taking a hot bath.  We asked Rose to try at least five things every time she feels upset. We told her she needed to have about 20 experiences in a row of not eating for emotional reasons in order to really feel confident that she has broken the habit of turning to food for comfort. 

What are some of the things you do, other than eating, when you’re upset and have an uncomfortable urge to eat?

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?

Expect the Tough Times

One of our dieters, Rose, has lately been having a tougher time sticking to her diet and exercise plan.  She’s about 2 ½ months into her diet and for the first time is really starting to struggle.  For the first two months things were relatively easy for Rose – her motivation was high, she was losing weight, and generally nothing was too difficult.  But a couple of months in and her motivation started to flag, her rate of weight loss slowed down slightly, and Rose suddenly found herself having to exert a lot more effort to stick to her plan.  Rose was extremely worried that things would continue to be really difficult and was having strong doubts as to whether or not she could really keep this up.

The first thing we did for Rose was to normalize her situation and tell her that this is exactly what happens to everyone.  No one, not a single dieter that we’ve worked with, has had a consistently steady and easy weight loss.  Every single one has experienced exactly what is now happening to Rose – in the beginning it’s easy, and then at a certain point things get harder for a period of time. But the good news is, they always get easier again.  And although hard times will continue to crop up, they do become fewer and farther between as dieters go along.  But dieters really need to know ahead of time that the high motivation and ease of loss that they experience in the beginning of a diet won’t last, that they will definitely encounter a harder time, and that the hard time will also pass.  If dieters aren’t prepared in advance for these hard times then when they come up they’re likely to get very discouraged and are at risk for abandoning their diet altogether.  

We discussed with Rose the fact that she needs to think about the bigger picture.  Things were easier for a while, then they became harder, but they will absolutely get easier again.  We also helped her put her week in perspective.  Rose initially said that she had a “really tough” week.  We asked her if every hour of every day was difficult, and she said no.  We then asked her if even most hours most days were difficult, and again she said no. On further reflection, Rose realized that all in all, she probably had struggled, at most, for a couple of hours several days, but had let the tougher times tinge her memory of the whole week.  Once she was able to put her situation in perspective, Rose realized that a momentary struggle was definitely not a good reason to abandon her diet, and like everyone else who is ultimately successful, she just has to plow through until the difficulty lifts.  We also reminded her that this is not the last hard time she will encounter, but Rose now feels much more confident that she can deal with the next one when it arises.

Staying on Track: Maria

On Monday we had our now monthly meeting of our lunchtime diet group and it was great to see everyone again!  Even better was when after everyone weighed in, we were able to report that each and every single one has either maintained their weight loss or gone on to lose more.  They have all made real changes in their thinking and in their behavior. They’ve adopted a whole new eating lifestyle and have the skills and confidence necessary to keep this lifestyle up. 

Maria, for example, knew she was going to a barbeque last weekend. Before she went, she sat down and thought about her food options.  They were:

1) Eat before she went in case there wasn’t any food there she could eat

2) Plan to eat at the barbeque, but know that she would have to be satisfied with smaller portions because the food was likely to more caloric then what she normally eats

3) Bring some food with her that she knows she will enjoy and feel satisfied with.


hotdogs1.jpgMaria chose the third option.  Because she knew she would be tempted by the sight and smell of hotdogs, she brought with her some low fat hotdogs that she’s had in the past and knows she enjoys.  She also brought some fruit for dessert in case there wasn’t any there, so she wouldn’t be tempted to go for cake or pie.  Maria went into the barbeque with the clear plan of eating exactly what she brought and nothing else, and didn’t struggle at all to stick to this plan.

How did she do it?  First of all Maria took the time to sit down and plan a strategy for the barbeque. If she hadn’t done so, she likely would have just gone with the intention of finding something there that she could eat, and probably would have ended up going over her calorie limit for the day.  Second, she brought food that was comparable to what was being served, so not only did she feel completely satisfied because she got to eat a good meal, but also she didn’t feel deprived because she was basically eating what everyone else was eating.  Third, Maria read her Advantages List (discussed on Day 1 of The Beck Diet Solution) before she went to remind herself why it was so important to her to stick to her plan.  Fourth, Maria has truly learned the skill of telling herself, “No Choice” (discussed on Day 13 of The Beck Diet Solution). She no longer lets herself even entertain the thought of going off her plan, and therefore no longer struggles to stay on it.

All of these things took time and lots of practice for Maria to master, but now that she has these skills, they come easily and naturally to her. 

Emotional Eating: Diana

Some of our dieters have been recently dealing with the issue of emotional eating.  Diana in particular has noticed this because she’s coming up to the anniversary of a loved one’s death.  What’s interesting about Diana’s situation is that originally she wasn’t even fully aware that the anniversary was looming; instead she just noticed feeling more emotional and having an intensifying desire to eat to comfort or distract herself. 

During the group today we discussed that dieters need to remind themselves that eating will only serve as a temporary distraction; it won’t solve the problem.  And actually, unplanned eating will only cause dieters to have two problems – the original problem, and now the additional problem of going off plan, feeling weak and out of control, and potentially gaining weight.  Dieters need to squarely ask themselves, “Do I want to have one problem or two?”

It’s also helpful for dieters to remember that there is no direct link between feeling bad and eating.  Naturally thin people, and people who have lost weight and maintained their weight loss, don’t turn to food for comfort. The former often don’t because it doesn’t even occur to them, and maintainers don’t because they know that they simply can’t emotionally eat if they want to keep the weight off; they know that they have to find other ways to find comfort.

We also discussed the notion that negative emotions are a part of life, and that it’s okay to feel badly sometimes.  We live in a feel-good society where many people think that experiencing negative emotions is somehow bad or wrong.   It’s important for dieters to learn that they can tolerate feeling bad and that it’s perfectly normal.

 To deal with this difficult time, Diana is going to try praying more often and drinking soothing hot tea.  She’s going to remind herself that negative emotions are a part of life, and that at the end of the day she’d rather only feel bad about one thing and not two.  As she succinctly put it, “Time does heal you.  Food does not.”

Switching Diets: Brenda

drink6.jpgIn two weeks, Brenda is going on a week-long vacation to Jamaica, which she is very excited about.  During the group this week, though, Brenda also voiced concerns about sticking to her diet while on vacation and she knows she’d better prepare in advance (Day 32 of The Beck Diet Solution). Brenda has been following a carb-counting diet, but she knows that when she goes to Jamaica she will want to sample the delicious local fruit and indulge in some tropical mixed drinks – all of which will pack in the carbohydrates. 

We discussed with Brenda the fact that this is the reason we have our dieters initially pick two diets, so they can always have one on the backburner in case their primary diet isn’t working out (Day 2).  The second diet Brenda had selected was a calorie-counting diet.  She realized that this would be perfect for her trip, and that she doesn’t need to abandon her diet while on vacation, she just needs to be flexible and follow a diet that is more practical for her circumstances.

Counting calories while on vacation will enable Brenda to work reasonable amounts of local foods that her normal diet wouldn’t allow, and it will enable her to continue her weight-loss efforts even while traveling.   Because she has gotten used to counting carbs, Brenda knows that she will have to bring a calorie-counting book with her to help plan her meals, but she knows that not gaining weight and feeling in control will make it well worth the effort.  With her new diet in tow, Brenda is confident she will be able to fully enjoy her vacation without any repercussions on the scale. 

Dieters Helping Dieters

During our diet group this week, we wanted to have our dieters benefit from each others’ wisdom.  Brenda began by talking about a sticky situation she found herself in over Mother’s Day.  That morning she was extremely busy so she skipped breakfast, and by the time she got to her planned Mother’s Day brunch, she was starving.  Brenda started out well, by eating the chicken and salad she had planned, but then when she was offered a hamburger, she ended up eating it – while standing up. 

Maria, our champion of “putting yourself first” (discussed on Day 8 of The Beck Diet Solution), gave Brenda the following advice:  she started by reminding Brenda how crucial it is to eat breakfast 365 days a year. Even when she’s busy or stressed, Maria always makes time to eat breakfast because she knows that skipping it will only set herself up to overeat later in the day (Day 2). 

Maria also talked about how good she has gotten at turning down food that other people offer her.  Maria, herself, went to several of her family members’ houses this Mother’s Day, and was offered food at each one.  Because she had already eaten breakfast and knew what she was going to eat for lunch, Maria firmly turned down all offers of food and instead drank only coffee – and she felt great about doing so.  She didn’t let herself give into the sabotaging thought, “It’s ok to eat this because it’s a celebration.”  Maria reminded Brenda of how good and empowering it feels when you are strong and stick to your diet.

Lastly, Maria reminded Brenda that you can’t let yourself slip up on the basics, like eating everything slowly, while sitting down, and noticing every bite (Day 5).  Chances are if Brenda had forced herself to sit down and face the hamburger, she might have been able to really notice what she was doing and talk herself out of eating unplanned food. 

Philadelphia Daily News: Maria

We are so excited that one of our wonderful dieters, Maria, was featured today in an article in the Philadelphia Daily News.  Maria, who has currently lost 57 pounds, credits her success to true changes in her thinking and behavior.  She now consistently does so many things that she never used to do, such as:

1. She always makes sure that she has the right foods in the house that she needs to stay on her diet.

2. She doesn’t worry about spending a little extra on the food she needs, because she knows it’s worth it to be thinner. 3. She always eats slowly while sitting down, and tries to enjoy every bite.

4. She doesn’t let her husband or children distract her from getting her exercise done.

5. She reads her Advantages List before going into a situation she knows could be difficult.

6. When going to a party or celebration, she always plans ahead what food she will eat, or how to get the food she will want to eat.

7. She checks restaurant menus online before going out to eat and decides ahead of time, so she doesn’t get tempted by other things on the menu.

8. She understands that she is making lifestyle changes. She recognizes that she isn’t on a temporary diet.

9. She doesn’t make exceptions in her eating, such as eating more because it’s a special occasion.

10. She doesn’t have ‘good’ foods and ‘bad’ foods, because she knows she can work anything into her diet, as long as she plans it.

11. She consistently gives herself credit for all of her positive diet and exercise-related behaviors, so that she continues to build her confidence and sense of control.

We are so proud of Maria and look forward to following her continued success!