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!
Recently I had a session with my client, Jenny. Among others skills, Jenny and I are working on her not having dessert before dinner. In session, Jenny told me that she was distressed because although she was able to resist dessert before dinner, on many occasions she was really tempted earlier in the day and wanted to give in. “I shouldn’t be having these thoughts!” she said to me. In a previous session, Jenny had told me that she had committed to going on a run with a friend one day after work. Although she was really tempted to cancel, Jenny ended up going. I reminded Jenny of this during our session and I asked her, “Did you feel really bad about having thoughts about cancelling the run?” Jenny thought about it and said that, no, she didn’t feel bad about it. Read more
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.
In my work with dieters, I find that many of them tend to fall into either the category of “Social Eaters” or “Secret Eaters.” Social eaters are those who have a lot of trouble staying in control when they are out and eating with other people. They are highly influenced by what everyone around them is eating and drinking and often feel deprived if they don’t eat in the same way. By contrast, secret eaters often have a much easier time staying in control when they are eating in front of other people and tend to lose it when they are back at home, alone. Regardless of which type of eater you may be (and some dieters fall into both categories), your greatest defense is figuring out in advance what sabotaging thoughts you’re likely to have in either situation and come up with responses to them. Here are some examples:
Social eating sabotaging thoughts
Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay to eat this because everyone around me is eating it.
Response: My body doesn’t know or care what everyone around me is eating; it only knows what I eat. So just because everyone around me is eating a lot, doesn’t necessarily mean that I can.
Sabotaging Thought: I’ll be deprived if I can’t eat what everyone around me is eating.
Response: Either way I’m deprived. Either I’m deprived of some food some of the time (but not all food, all of the time), or I’m deprived of all the benefits of losing weight. Which would be the bigger deprivation?
Sabotaging Thought: It’s not fair I can’t eat normally like everyone else.
Response: I have to redefine my definition of “normal” eating. In fact, I am eating 100% normally for someone of my age and my gender with my weight loss goals.
Secret eating sabotaging thoughts
Sabotaging Thought: I was so good when I was out and there so much food I didn’t eat, so it’s okay to eat this now.
Response: My body doesn’t know all the food I didn’t eat, it only knows what I do eat. So just because I turned down lots of food before doesn’t mean that I can eat extra now.
Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay to eat this because no one is watching.
Response: Although it may feel okay to eat extra because I’m alone, the reality is that my body doesn’t know if 100 people are watching me eat or if no one is watching me eat, it processes all calories the same. So it’s absolutely irrelevant whether or not I’m alone when I overeat – overeating is overeating.
Whether you’re a social eater or a secret eater, another helpful technique is to make a plan, in advance, of what you’ll eat in those situations. For social eaters, if you know you’re going out to dinner with friends, decide in advance what you’re going to eat and then respond to sabotaging thoughts in the moment to ensure that you stick to your plan. Remember that, if you want to lose weight, what everyone else around you is eating has no bearing on what you eat. Stick to your plan and you’ll be so happy, once the event is over, that you did.
For social eaters, plan in advance what, if anything, you’ll eat when you arrive back home. If your plan is to eat nothing, avoid the kitchen entirely. If your plan is to have either a snack or a mug of hot tea when you get home, get everything together before you leave (for example, put a tea bag in a mug on your table) so that way when you get home, it will be easy to remember exactly what your plan is and you won’t have to go rooting in the cupboards. Respond to sabotaging thoughts that would encourage you to eat something you hadn’t planned to eat. Stick to your plan and you’ll be so happy, once the night is over, that you did.
Q: There are so many treats in my office right now, and although I try hard to resist them, it’s so hard this time of year. Any suggestions on what I can do to get through the holiday season without getting off track with my eating?
A: We know this time of year can be particularly hard for people who are working on losing weight or maintaining their weight. In answer to your question, let me tell you about what I do and what works for me.
I have a rule for myself that makes life so much easier: no junk food before dinner. Before I started working on losing weight, and then maintaining my weight loss, I certainly did not have this rule and would eat junk food and desserts several times a day, often whenever it was offered to me or I came in contact with it. Even after I lost weight, I still didn’t have this rule, but would try hard not to eat much (if any) junk food during the day. However, when I began working at the Beck Institute, limiting my daily junk food consumption became harder because there were often treats in our office kitchen. To make matters worse, my office is right across from the kitchen and I go in there several times a day to refill my water cup. For the first few months, I found going into the kitchen to be a hard experience because I would see all the treats in there, want them, and then engage in the struggle of saying to myself things like, “Oh those brownies look really good/But you know you shouldn’t have one/How about if I just have a small piece/No, you know it’s about the habit, not about the calories/But just this one time won’t matter/Every time matters, don’t fool yourself,” etc. Because this was happening to me on a daily basis (and, often on a multiple times a day basis), I quickly realized that something had to change because I didn’t want the struggle to continue. So what did I do? I made a rule for myself: No junk food before dinner. No exceptions. If I saw something in the office kitchen that I really wanted, I could take a piece home and have it after dinner.
Right after I made this rule, life got easier. I no longer had to think about whether or not to eat the treats every time I went into the kitchen because I knew I wasn’t having any. The decision had already been made. In the beginning, of course, there were still times that I was highly tempted by the treats, and my sabotaging thoughts tried to convince me that just one time, or just one bite, wouldn’t matter. But every time I had that thought, I strongly reminded myself that every time does matter and every bite does matter because if I gave in once, then I would be much more likely to give in again. I knew that if I opened the door to exceptions one time, then I would be tempted to open it over and over again, and thus my rule wouldn’t work anymore. Every time I was tempted to eat a treat during the day, I would remind myself, “No, you’re not eating this now. The decision has already been made. Don’t even think about it.” I would also remind myself, “You don’t need to eat it now! If you really want it, bring it home and have it after dinner. Besides, you’ll enjoy it much more then because you won’t feel guilty about eating it.”
The more I proved to myself that no matter what I wasn’t going to eat treats from the kitchen while at work, it started to get easier and easier to resist them. I am grateful all the time for this rule because it means that I can go into the office kitchen as many times a day as I need to, and I don’t have to worry about what I might see in there. I don’t have to worry about engaging in a painful “Should I eat this/Should I not eat this” struggle with myself because I know: I just don’t eat it at work.
This rule becomes even more important during the holiday season when our office is overloaded with treats. Even though, in theory, there are more temptations to eat all the treats during the holiday season, I am more committed than ever to my rule right now because I know that if I gave in, life would get harder again, and it’s just not worth it to me. Every time I’m tempted when I walk in the kitchen, I remind myself over and over again, “It’s not worth eating this now because the only thing it will do is increase my struggles and make life harder. It’s worth it to continue resisting because it means I’ll be able to maintain my weight and have an easier life.”
This week, I had a session with my dieter, Rachel. Although she very much enjoys her job as a manager in a big medical office, Rachel also finds that her days are hectic and stressful. In session this week, Rachel and I discussed a situation in which she got off track on Friday night.
On Friday evening, Rachel had planned on going out to meet friends after work, but then felt too tired from an especially busy week. Although she initially thought to make herself a healthy meal at home, she ended up going home and ordering “way too much” Chinese takeout – and then eating almost all of it over the course of the night. I asked Rachel what thoughts she was having when she decided to order Chinese takeout instead of her planned healthy dinner, and what thoughts she was having that then led her overeat. Rachel said that the main thought she was having was, “I deserve to treat myself.” “I had such a stressful week,” she told me, “and I was already feeling somewhat sad about missing my night out. I kept thinking that I deserved to treat myself after my hard week, and because I was staying in, the thought of big cartons full of Chinese food seemed the way to do it.”
I then asked Rachel how she felt when she was going to bed that night, and she told me she felt, “sick from eating too much, guilty, and really mad at myself.” Rachel and I discussed the fact that, although she ordered Chinese food to “treat herself,” in the end it actually did the exact opposite because she was left feeling badly, both physically and psychologically. I pointed out to Rachel that one of the dangers of treating herself with food was that, at least in this case, it was a form of emotional eating because what Rachel was really looking for was a way to unwind and de-stress from her busy week, as well as feel better about staying in. Emotional eating is something that Rachel has struggled with a lot in the past, and at the time Rachel hadn’t realized that this, too, was emotional eating. And just like every other time Rachel used food to treat emotions, she ended up feeling all the worse for doing so.
Rachel and I then discussed the notion of treating herself and how she might go about it in a way that actually did make her feel like she was treating herself. Rachel told me that when she did things like get a manicure or a massage, or take a long bike ride with her friends, or indulge in an afternoon sitting in a book store with a cup of tea, she felt great, and not at all like how she felt after a night overeating Chinese food. Rachel made the following Response Card to remind herself of this idea:
Last week, Dr. Judith Beck and I presented at a Bariatric Surgery conference and we spoke about helping bariatric surgery patients change their thinking to help them better adjust to their new lifestyles and stick with their new way of eating. Here are some sabotaging thoughts and responses that are particularly relevant for people who have had (or are thinking about having) some type of bariatric surgery.
Sabotaging Thought: Now that I’ve had the surgery, it’s not fair that I can’t eat normally.
Response: I need to change my definition of ‘normal’ eating. I actually am eating 100% normally for someone who has had bariatric surgery. The way I used to eat is no longer normal (and remember – it was likely never really “normal” in the first place because it caused me to be overweight). My new normal is following my diet.
Sabotaging Thought: I won’t be able to take part in big celebratory meals anymore
Response: I can still celebrate occasions without overeating or overdrinking. I don’t have to make toasts with alcohol in my glass, I can celebrate a birthday even though I’m only eating a little (or no) cake, and I can still take part in the social aspects of special events regardless of what I eat. What I’m eating or not eating does not have to determine how much enjoyment I get. Besides, once I lose weight, I’ll get to enjoy looking and feeling great – which will be so much more pleasurable.
Sabotaging Thought: I’m afraid I won’t know who I am after losing so much weight.
Response: It’s true, things will look and feel very differently. It may require some renegotiation on my part to figure out where I fit in, and renegotiations with others to figure out our relationships, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It’s better than the alternative of staying overweight, feeling miserable, and continuing to be stuck in an unhappy and unhealthy place.
Sabotaging Thought: I’m sad I won’t be able to binge anymore.
Response: By having this surgery done, I am giving some things up and there are definitely disadvantages. It’s okay to be sad about what I’m losing, but it’s also important to think about how much I’m gaining, and how all-encompassingly great those things are, like better health, self-pride, and confidence. I’ll be giving some things up, but in many ways, I’ll be getting my life back in return.
Sabotaging Thought: I’m afraid that I won’t be able to handle so much change.
Response: Thank goodness things will change! I need change to keep moving forward and to improve my life. Change can initially be scary, but that doesn’t mean I can’t handle it, and that doesn’t mean it won’t be 100% worth it.
I recently had a session with my dieter, Kara, who is a busy stay-at-home mom to her four boys. In earlier sessions, Kara and I worked on all of the foundational dieting skills and she got very adept at consistently instituting good eating habits. Because of this, we then started talking about having Kara make a food plan in advance and stick to it. Kara was initially resistant to this idea and stated that her lifestyle just wouldn’t work with a strict eating plan because she was always on the go and she often didn’t know ahead of time what her next meal would be. Kara also said that she didn’t want to give up spontaneous eating and liked being able to eat something if it was offered to her unexpectedly. I discussed with Kara the fact that making a food plan and sticking to it would likely make her life a lot easier because she wouldn’t have to rely on willpower at any one given moment to resist unplanned treats. I also pointed out that it might actually be very helpful for Kara to have a food plan, because she was often scrambling around at the last moment to make sure that she had dinner on the table for her family.
Despite these compelling reasons for why it might be worth it to try making a plan and sticking to it, Kara still resisted the idea and so we agreed to try it her way first – she’d work on staying in control of her eating and resist cravings, but without having a formal plan. Over that week, Kara tried hard to reign in her eating without a food plan and without violating her rule: no junk food until after dinner. However, when Kara came in to see me the following week, she dejectedly told me that something had thrown her off almost every single day, like when she was offered licorice at the park, cookies at a PTA meeting, or a dinner out with her husband.
Kara and I discussed what had happened over the week and she realized that, right now, she faces too many temptations each day to be able to resist all of them easily enough, and therefore making a plan and sticking might be very helpful in overcoming this obstacle. I reminded Kara that she probably tried very hard each day to resist the temptations and to reason herself out of eating food she knew she shouldn’t, and therefore likely had a much harder week than if she had just known ahead of time whether or not she was going to have something. Kara decided that she was willing to try and stick to a food plan for at least one week and see if it made a difference in her overall day.
Before she set out to do this, Kara and I spent some time in session thinking about when it would be hardest for her to stick to her plan and what sabotaging thoughts might get in the way of her doing so. Kara thought that the hardest times would be, as it had been, when she was offered or saw food she didn’t expect, and to not give in in that moment. I asked Kara what thoughts she might have in those moments, and then she made Response Cards with responses that we formulated together. Here are some of Kara’s sabotaging thoughts and then the responses we formulated:
Sabotaging Thought: I really want to eat that right now even though it’s not on my plan. Just this one time won’t matter.
Sabotaging Thought: It’s not fair that I can’t eat this treat right now.
Sabotaging Thought: I really don’t like having to make a food plan.
When Kara came in to see me earlier this week, she reported that she had had a much better week. As we predicted, once Kara made a food plan and worked on sticking to it, it made several aspects of her life easier. First of all, Kara struggled a lot less about whether or not to eat something that was offered to her because she knew that if it wasn’t on her plan, she shouldn’t convince herself that it was okay to eat it. Second, Kara also found that she really enjoyed having meal plans for the day (and even for the week) because it allowed her more time with her boys in the afternoon because she was spending less time trying to figure out what to prepare for dinner. Once Kara decided to try making a food plan, she realized that it wasn’t nearly as bad as she thought it was going to be and, in many ways, it actually made her day better, not worse.
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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