How to Write Response Cards

Response Cards can be very effective because they remind dieters of the important ideas they will need to help them stick to their diets.  Response Cards are usually one or two lines written on a 3×5 card (or a business-sized card) that dieters practice reading every day.  Dieters make Response Cards for issues that come up on a day to day basis, and also ones for specific and potentially difficult situations, like going out to dinner or to a party, going on vacation, during the holidays, etc.  In essence, Response Cards contain helpful responses to dieters’ sabotaging thoughts and help provide continual motivation.  For example, if dieters frequently have the thought, “I have to eat this because otherwise it will go to waste,” then they may make a card that says something like, “If there is leftover food, it will go to waste in the trashcan or in my body.  Either way it’s wasted.” 

Response cards can also be fine-tuned over time.  If dieters are struggling with emotional eating, they may make a card that says, “When I’m feeling upset, don’t eat! It won’t help solve the problem and then I’ll just feel even worse after anyway.”  Once dieters figure out how to cope with negative emotions in other ways, like taking a walk, calling a friend, or listening to music, then they may make a new Response Card that reads, “When I’m feeling upset, don’t eat because it will only make me feel worse. Instead go take a walk or call mom, I’ll be so happy later that I did.”

Response Cards should be very clear and to the point so dieters immediately know what messages they are sending.  Response Cards should also be strongly worded and, when needed, be very specific.  Here are some examples of okay Response Cards and then how to improve them:

Response Card: If I’m feeling hungry and it’s not time to eat, resist the food so that I can stick to my plan.

Better Response Card: If I’m feeling hungry and it’s not time to eat, don’t eat! I can hold out [X] minutes until it’s time to eat again, and the food will taste so much better if I do.

 

Response Card: Don’t eat little bites of food that aren’t on my plan because they will sabotage my efforts.

Better Response Card: Every single bite matters. It’s not the calories, it’s the habit. I need to take every opportunity I can to strengthen my resistance muscle.

 

Response Card: Yes, it is unfair that I can’t eat the way everyone else is eating but I can’t let that get in the way.

Better Response Card: It’s true it’s unfair that I can’t eat everything everyone else is eating, but it would be MORE unfair if I was never able to lose weight and keep it off. I’d much rather be thin!

 

Response Card: It’s not okay to eat unplanned food because I will regret it later.

Better Response Card: If I eat this food I hadn’t planned, I’ll get just a few moments of pleasure but then I’ll definitely feel bad about it and be at risk for eating more.

 

Response Card: If I make a mistake, get back on track right away so I don’t make the situation worse.

Better Response Card: Everybody makes mistakes, it’s not the end of the world. Get back on track this    minute! It’s a million times better to stop now than to keep eating more.  Being on track feels so much better than feeling out of control.

What is the difference between the okay and the better Response Cards?  While the “okay” ones do contain kernels of helpful ideas, they are not particularly motivating. The “better” Response Cards are very directive and remind dieters why it’s worth it to them to stick to their plans.  They also draw on dieters’ past experiences and use them as helpful reminders of times when they were able to resist in the past, or times when they didn’t but wished that they had.

When the Struggle Just Isn’t Worth It

Jamie came to see me a few weeks ago and one of the items she wanted to put on our agenda for the session was her trouble with ice cream. In the past Jamie has described ice cream as her Achilles heel, and it seemed that it had once again become problematic for her. Jamie told me that she was having difficulty keeping ice cream in her house because she would end up eating way more than one serving at a time, and way more than she had planned.

At that point, Jamie and I had discussed several strategies for her to try. I helped Jamie to identify some of the sabotaging thinking she was having in the moment she was tempted to eat more ice cream than she had planned and came up with responses to them. Some of Jamie’s sabotaging thoughts and helpful responses were:

Sabotaging thought: “It’s okay to eat more than I had planned just this one time”

Response: “It’s not okay to do it this one time because every single time matters. Every time I eat more ice cream than I had planned, I make it more likely I will eat more the next time, too. I need to exercise my resistance muscle, not my giving in muscle.”

Sabotaging Thought: “I deserve more ice cream at night because I was so good during the day and I turned down lots of holiday treats.”

Response: “My body doesn’t know or care how many things I didn’t eat today, it only knows how much I did eat. If I eat more calories than I had planned, I will gain weight.”

In session, Jamie made some new Response Cards with these helpful ideas on them and committed to reading them right before she had her nightly ice cream treat. Jamie and I also devised a plan for what she would do when she finished her serving of ice cream, including immediately putting her bowl and spoon in the dishwasher and turning to a list of distraction techniques to employ until the craving for more had passed.

Jamie came back to see me the following week and reported that ice cream continued to be a problem for her and she was feeling bad about her lack of control. Jamie reported that even though she was reading her Response Cards, sabotaging thoughts were continuing to hound her and she was struggling on an almost nightly basis. She said that every time she set out to have ice cream, she would have the thought, “I’ll be able to stop after one serving,” although that rarely was the case.

Jamie and I then talked about what our next plan of attack should be. I reminded Jamie that, while the ultimate goal is for her to be able to keep anything in the house and know she can stay in control, if a particular food item is consistently giving her trouble it can be a good idea to just not keep it in the house for the time being. Jamie and I discussed the fact that she was constantly putting herself through a struggle each night because even when she was able to limit her intake to one serving, it was very hard for her to do so. On any given night, the thought, “I’ll be able to stop after one serving,” was either not true, or it was true but required a lot of struggle and effort on Jamie’s part.

By the end of the session, Jamie came to the conclusion that right now, even though she really liked ice cream, it just wasn’t worth it to her to keep it in the house. I reminded Jamie that she doesn’t have to keep ice cream out of her house forever; rather this is just for a limited time while she builds back up her resistance muscle. Jamie also decided that if she really wanted ice cream, she could go out and buy a single serving of it so she wouldn’t have to struggle to stop eating. Undoubtedly Jamie will keep ice cream in her house in the future, but for right now the negatives outweigh the positives.

5 Reasons to Start Your Diet Resolutions Today

Perhaps one of the most commonly heard holiday-related sabotaging thoughts is, “My resolution is to eat healthfully so I’ll start dieting after New Year’s.” In our work with dieters we don’t subscribe to the notion that it’s a good idea, or even a rational idea, to wait until the holidays are over to start eating healthfully. Instead, we work with our dieters to help them build skills and practice them consistently so that they don’t have to struggle to get back on track come January 1st. The reason we do this is because the holiday season happens year, and if dieters decide to throw in the towel during the holidays this year, chances are pretty good they will do the same thing next year, and every year to follow. Here’s why it’s so problematic to wait until the New Year to begin eating healthfully again:

1. If dieters decide that it’s okay to splurge a lot during the holidays and eat whatever they want, it sends themselves the message that it’s okay to make exceptions to dieting and healthy eating. Once dieters start making exceptions in one area, they begin to get tempted to make exceptions in other ways as well, telling themselves, “just this one time won’t matter”. Instead of just knowing that they will stay in control during the weekends, at weddings, functions, dinners out, parties, and other holidays, they may begin to struggle with themselves before and during each one and agonize over whether or not to make an exception. We always remind our dieters that one of the hardest parts of dieting is the struggle, and everything we can do to reduce the struggle is worth it.

2. There is no guarantee that dieters will actually be able to get themselves back on track once the holiday season is over. At the beginning of the holiday season, dieters may firmly believe that no matter what once the New Year hits they will be able to return to healthy eating, but this is not always the case. If dieters eat off track during the holiday season, it is likely that they will end up gaining some, or even a lot, of weight. Gaining weight can be very discouraging, and the more discouraged dieters feel, the harder it will be for them to get back on track. If dieters are feeling discouraged, when the New Year comes they may very well end up telling themselves, “I’ve gained all this weight so what’s the point,” or, “I’ll get back on track tomorrow,” or, “I’ll start my diet next week,” and it may take weeks or even months for dieters to regain control over their eating.

3. Dieters will constantly undo all of their hard work from the rest of the year by gaining weight during the holiday season. Even if they are able to get themselves back on track January 1st, they may not be able to quite lose all the weight they had gained. If this happens, dieters will find that their weight slowly begins to creep up year after year and they may begin to feel helpless to stop it.

4. It often happens with dieters that once they get off track for a number of days, they actually forget how good it feels to be in control of their eating and how much they enjoy all the benefits of losing weight. Especially if dieters have gotten used to giving in to all their cravings, eating whatever they feel like, and not having a plan, it can be very difficult for them to convince themselves to return to healthy eating once the holiday season is over because they don’t remember how much better it feels when they are practicing their skills consistently.

5. Once dieters get off track, it can undermine their confidence that they are capable of dieting successfully and controlling their eating. Not only do they forget how good it feels when they are in control, they may also begin to question their abilities to lose weight and keep it off permanently.

For all of these reasons and more, we find that it is just not worth it to continually splurge during the holiday season and have to count on getting back on track January 1st, because doing so can make almost every part of dieting and maintaining harder and jeopardize future success. Our dieters come to realize that good health, feeling good about themselves, having more self-confidence, being able to move around better, being able to fit into their old clothes, feeling proud of themselves, setting a good example for their kids, and feeling good when they look in the mirror more than makes up for it.  So don’t wait, start your resolution RIGHT NOW and come January 1st you will be so happy you did.

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.

Handling Hunger

Jamie came in to see me this week and discussed a situation that had happened the day before. Jamie told me that she woke up, had her normal breakfast, and then went to work. At 10:00am she had her usual snack to tide her over until her 12:30 lunch break. However, at about 10:30 she started to feel very hungry. Because Jamie and I have spent time in the past helping her learn to differentiate between hunger and non-hunger, she could tell that it was hunger she was experiencing, not thirst, a craving, or just a desire to eat. Looking ahead, Jamie knew he lunch was still a formidable two hours away and she was sitting at her desk with a hungry stomach.

When Jamie first came to see me she had a fear of hunger that was leading her to load up at meals and carry snacks with her just in case hunger should choose to strike. This is why I had had Jamie do a hunger experiment (which is to skip lunch one day and eat nothing between breakfast and dinner) twice over the course of a month to prove to herself that hunger comes and goes and that at its worst, hunger pains rate as only mildly painful. Before Jamie did this experiment she wrote out a pain chart and assigned numbers, 1 through 10, to her most painful experiences. For Jamie, 1 was a mild headache, 5 was a bad toothache, and 10 was the time she broke her leg and needed surgery. When Jamie did the hunger experiment, not only did she find that the hunger came and went and she forgot about it when she got distracted, but when she was feeling hunger pangs they only rated, at their highest, at about a 2 or 2.5. Through the hunger experiment Jamie definitively learned that hunger will not kill her and that if she gets busy she won’t even feel it most of the time.

However, Jamie had done these hunger experiments a few months ago and by the time her hunger before lunch rolled around this week, Jamie had begun to forget what she had previously proved to herself. Jamie told me that she started to have thoughts like, “Oh no, I’m hungry and lunch isn’t for another two hours. This is really bad and I’m going to get so hungry and be too distracted to get any work done. I’ll never make it until lunch time.” Because of these sabotaging thoughts, Jamie seriously considered having another snack and began to look for one until she realized that didn’t have any other food packed and so she couldn’t. Jamie told me that was the best thing that could have happened to her because she was forced to wait out her hunger and not put a band aid on it, like she would have done in the past. When Jamie accepted that she wasn’t going to be able to have a snack despite her desire to have one, she was able to turn her attention back to work and start tackling a project that had been hanging over her head.            

Like she experienced in the past, before Jamie knew it an hour had passed and she realized she had barely been feeling much, if any, hunger during that time. Jamie did experience some hunger pangs again when she took a breather, was no longer distracted, and turned her attention to thoughts of food, but by that point she was easily able to tell herself, “Lunch is only an hour away. I can definitely wait an hour to eat and I know I’ll be so happy I did. I just have to get myself involved in work again and the hunger will go away like it always does.”

In session, Jamie and I discussed her triumph and what she has learned from it. Jamie reported that she was glad she was forced to undergo another smaller hunger experiment because it helped remind her of things she already knew but had forgotten somewhat. Jamie and I discussed the fact that she might continue to be a little bit vulnerable to fearing hunger, but whenever she needed to she could always do another hunger experiment and prove to herself, over and over again, that hunger is not an emergency and she can definitely wait it out.

Beck Diet Solution Success

We received the following letter a few weeks ago from Kari, a woman who read and followed The Beck Diet Solution. With Kari’s permission we are posting her story because we have found it incredibly inspirational and think others will, too. Kari’s story reminds us that, while dieting can be difficult, the payoff of doing so is amazing and absolutely, 100% worth the effort. Like many dieters, Kari has found that learning to take control of her eating has also enabled her to take control in other areas of her life, too. Congratulations on all your hard work, Kari!

(P.S. We’d love to hear your stories, too!)

October 5, 2011

Dear Dr. Beck,

I knew I had experienced transformation, but it didn’t really hit me how dramatic the change was until I saw these two pictures next to each other on my computer!

Thank you for writing your books and helping me to give myself the 40th birthday present that I really wanted. When I turned 39 on Oct. 23, 2010, I said that by the time I turned 40 I wanted to be a healthy weight. Well, I’m about to turn 40 and I am now in the “normal” weight range, thanks to using the skills I learned in your books.

I am a musician and losing weight has made performing so much easier and a lot more fun. I have so much more confidence because I feel great. But also, and perhaps more importantly, I’ve learned how to help myself stay on track with not just dieting, but practicing music, budgeting money, and other areas that I would like to improve.

The Beck Diet Solution is an incredible tool, and I am so glad that I had the good fortune to discover it! No other diet I tried could take me all the way to goal – yours was the only plan that covered every single hardship that I might face and taught me how to plan for those times. Your diet plan was the only one that taught me how to tailor the program to my own circumstances – from planning the food I liked to creating my own responses to my specific sabotaging thoughts and behaviors. Your plan was the only one who dealt with the reality of food pushers, traveling and getting off track. I liked learning how to count calories because it gave me the knowledge I needed to know to deal with meal planning, restaurants and parties. If I had times when I cheated, I knew how to analyze the situation and plan to avoid that pitfall again. The Beck Diet Solution is a sensible, comprehensive approach that really works!

I have been on the plan for a little over a year now, and I just recently made new “advantages” cards. When I looked back at the previous year and compared it to my current cards, I could see how much I’ve matured as a person because of following your plan. I really feel that your approach helped me to become more conscious of myself in so many areas of my life – not just how I look or feel physically, but how I greet life in general now on an emotional level. I now notice distorted or sabotaging thoughts about other things, not just food, and I can talk back to those as well.

Anyway, I can’t thank you enough. You’ve changed my life and I know there are positive ripple effects to the people around me. I hope everyone who has a desire to lose weight will find your books and experience the amazing transformation that I have.

Thank you again!

Sincerely,

Kari D.

 

Instituting Exercise – Part II

I asked Jamie to think about the week to come and what sabotaging thoughts she might have that would get in the way of her enacting her exercise plan. Jamie reported that she might think:

• 20 minutes is almost nothing and it won’t do anything anyway

• It’s too hard to get myself to do it

• I’ll never be able to keep it up so why should I start

• I’m too busy/rushed/stressed to exercise this week, I’ll start next week

• I just don’t feel like exercising right now

[Do any of these sound familiar to you?]

In session I helped Jamie to examine each one of those thoughts and come up with responses to them. Here are Jamie’s new responses:

Sabotaging Thought: 20 minutes is almost nothing and it won’t do anything anyway

Response: 20 minutes is MUCH better than 0 minutes. I can work up from here but it’s important to start off smaller so that I don’t fall back into my all-or-nothing habit by having too hard of a goal and then getting overwhelmed and quitting, like I have done so many times in the past.

Sabotaging Thought: It’s too hard to get myself to do it

Response: The hardest part is just getting my sneakers on. Once I get myself out the door it will be easier. I’ve proven to myself that I can do hard things where dieting is concerned so I know I can do this hard thing, too. It’s so worth it!

Sabotaging Thought: I’ll never be able to keep it up anyway so why should I start

Response: In the past I’ve never kept up with exercise because I didn’t know how to identify and respond to my sabotaging thoughts. Now I have learned to talk back to the thoughts that would get in the way of my exercising consistently and I’ve also learned how to make diet and exercise a TOP priority and to not make excuses.

Sabotaging Thought: I’m too busy/rushed/stressed to exercise this week, I’ll start next week

Response: When has “starting next week” EVER helped me to reach my goals? I need to start doing these things THIS MINUTE or I never will. Besides, exercise will actually help me calm down and make me less stressed, not more. And being busy is NO excuse because I won’t be able to do all those other things if I’m not healthy.

Sabotaging Thought: I just don’t feel like exercising right now

Response: It’s true, I don’t feel like exercising. But even more I don’t feel like being overweight, putting my health at risk, and not being able to run around with my kids. Even though I don’t feel like it I just have to do it anyway because the payoff will be more than worth it.

I had Jamie write down each one of these responses onto Response Cards and part of her homework was to read them every single day until the ideas started to get more into her head.

I also discussed with Jamie that just doing the exercise is not the only important factor because it’s also very important what she says to herself while she’s doing it. I pointed out to Jamie that if, while she’s walking, she says to herself the whole time, “This is terrible. I hate doing this. I really wish I didn’t have to ever exercise. This stinks and I should be doing 100 other things right now,” then she’s going to have a pretty bad time and it’s going to be that much harder for her to get herself to exercise the next time. On the other hand, if Jamie says to herself while she’s walking, “Okay, I may not like this all that much but it’s GREAT that I’m doing this. This is so important for my health and my well-being and I know I’m going to get so many positive things in return. I deserve lots of credit for doing this,” then she’s likely going to have a much better time, actually end up feeling good about it, and will have an easier time getting her sneakers on the next time.

The bottom line: I had to help Jamie change her thinking so that she would be able to effectively change her behavior.

Instituting Exercise – Part I

Last week in session, my dieter, Jamie, and I tackled the question of exercise. Should she do it? How much should she do? How much is reasonable to do? What types of exercise can she do? Will she hate doing it? How will she fit it into her busy schedule? How will she get herself to do it?

Like many of my dieters, when Jamie first came to see me she was a classic all-or-nothing exerciser, meaning she was either exercising intensely 7 days a week or she wasn’t exercising at all. Jamie had very little middle ground and was always either “on” her exercise plan or “off” of it. Jamie had also told me that she really hated to exercise and she was not looking forward to the day that I would “make” her do it.

As soon as I heard that from Jamie – that I would “make” her do it – I immediately reminded her that my job wasn’t to make her do anything because these were not MY goals for her, they were her goals for herself. I pulled out Jamie’s Advantages List and asked her how important all of those things were and Jamie responded that they were the most important things to her and agreed that she would be willing to try new things if it meant she could achieve them.

In session last week, I discussed with Jamie the fact that she might not need to exercise to lose weight, but almost definitely would need to exercise to maintain her weight and she unquestionably needed to exercise to have good health. Since a lot of Jamie’s goals involved having better health, preventing future health problems, and being able to be more active with her children and husband, I reminded her that all of those things implied a better level of fitness, which she would not be able to achieve without some form of exercise. Albeit reluctantly, Jamie agreed that exercise seemed like a necessary evil.

The first thing Jamie and I did was discuss what type of exercise plan would be reasonable for her. Jamie initially told me that since she would have to exercise again, she might as well do as much as she can so that the weight would come off more quickly. I reminded Jamie that we are working on getting her away from all-or-nothing thinking of all kinds, and besides, when has being an all-or-nothing exerciser ever helped her to maintain an exercise plan and reach her goals?

Jamie and I decided that since she loved the fall season, and since the weather was cooling down, she would start off by walking outside for at least 20 minutes 3 days this week. I encouraged Jamie to not make her plan for more days or for more minutes/hours this first week because setting too hard of a plan would only be counterproductive. I discussed with Jamie the fact that it’s always important to set reasonable homework because that way she can achieve it and feel good about it. If Jamie had decided to make her plan for 6 days that week and instead was only able to walk on 4 days, she would wind up feeling bad about the 2 days she didn’t walk, instead of feeling great about the 4 days she did. Jamie and I then discussed what would be the easiest time for her to get this walk in, knowing that the earlier in the day she aimed to do it, the more likely she would be to get it done. Jamie decided that 3 days this week she would get up a half hour earlier and get her walk out of the way before her kids woke up.

Now that Jamie had her exercise plan, the next step, which will be covered in Part 2, was to discuss with Jamie how she would get herself to actually institute the plan, in part by helping her to identify in advance what sabotaging thoughts might get in the way of this.

Ask the Diet Program Coordinator

Question: I struggle with feeling boxed in by the phrase, “No Choice.” Is this just immaturity and something I need to work on to accept?

Answer: For a lot of our dieters, the phrase NO CHOICE is extremely useful because it helps them reduce dieting struggles. If they want to give in to a craving, have a second helping at dinner, or eat a bag of chips while zoning out in front of the television, they can tell themselves, “Absolutely not. NO CHOICE. I’m not going have it.” When dieters, even subconsciously, give themselves a choice about something, like eating a cookie they just saw in the break room, it sets up the uncomfortable struggle of should I/shouldn’t I have this, which often sounds something like:

I really want to eat this.

But I know I shouldn’t because it’s not on my plan.

But it looks really good.

But it might jeopardize my diet.

But just having a little bit won’t matter.

But it will matter because it will set up a sugar craving.

But just this one time won’t hurt.

When dieters engage in this struggle, it makes it harder for them to make the right choice, especially if their sabotaging thoughts are strong and they don’t yet have good responses to them. In this way, just ignoring all the sabotaging thoughts and telling themselves, “NO CHOICE,” is very helpful in getting past the difficult situation.

However, some of our dieters don’t like the No Choice phrase and sometimes find themselves rebelling against the notion of not having a choice, so we don’t use it with them. Many dieters in this camp prefer thinking about it terms of actually having a choice that they are making. “I choose not to give into this craving,” or “I choose to not have any of those cookies because my weight loss goals are much more important to me.” Sometimes the phrase, “I choose,” can be just as powerful as the phrase, “No Choice.”

The advantage of dieters using the “I choose” phrase is that it cuts down on any rebellion because it reminds dieters that they are doing this because they want to, and because it will enable them to reach their goals for themselves (and not the diet coach’s goals for them). That way they don’t have to feel like their diet coach is the one pushing them to do something unnecessarily or taking away their free will in any way. Because, after all, dieters are ultimately the ones in charge of everything that they do or don’t eat and it is up to them to choose what that will be. For some dieters, a possible disadvantage of using “I choose” or not using “No Choice,” is that then they are still engaging in the should I/shouldn’t I struggle if they initially forget why it’s worth it to make the choices that will get them to their goals.

So the answer is no, this is not necessarily something that you have to work on or accept. We understand that each and every dieter is unique and will respond differently to each thought and response. While some phrases and responses are helpful to a great number of dieters, that doesn’t mean it is true for everyone. If “No Choice,” isn’t right for you then you just need to figure out what other phrases or responses will be helpful to you in those moments when the sabotaging thoughts are the strongest. For every sabotaging thought there is a helpful response!

Sabotaging Thoughts and Unhelpful Cognitions

When dieters first come into our office, they have all kinds of unhelpful cognitions (which we call “sabotaging thoughts”) about everything related to diet, food, and weight loss:

Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Dieting

Once I lose weight I won’t have to diet anymore

Dieting should be easy

Dieting should not take a long time

Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Food

I should eat as little as possible to help me lose weight more quickly

I should cut out all high-fat or high-calorie foods while I’m dieting

It’s not okay to waste food

Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Hunger

Hunger is bad and something bad will happen to me if I get too hungry

If I get hungry, the hunger will just get worse and worse until I eat something

I shouldn’t ever be hungry

Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Cravings

If I am really craving something, it means I need to eat it

I might as well eat what I’m craving now because I will just end up eating it eventually

There is nothing I can do to make cravings go away

Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Weight Loss

Weight loss should be really fast – all the magazines say that it is

Weight loss should be easy – all the magazines say that it is

If I’m dieting, I need to lose weight every day/week or it means it’s not working

Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Permission

It’s okay to eat this food because….I’m stressed; I’m tired; everybody else is eating it; it’s just a little piece; it’s free; I’ll make up for it later; I’ll exercise more later; someone will be disappointed if I don’t have it; no one is watching; I’ve already blown it for the day so I’ll start again tomorrow; I’m celebrating; it will go to waste; I’m really upset; I’ve been so good lately, etc.

Dieters have unhelpful cognitions about Perfectionism and Cheating

Either I’m 100% perfect on my diet or I’m totally off of it

I’ve already eaten too much today so I’ll continue to eat whatever I want and start again tomorrow

If I make mistakes while dieting, it means that I just can’t do it

Sabotaging thoughts like these are at the root of why dieters are overweight in the first place because they cause dieters to act in a certain way. Let’s say it’s 4:00pm and a dieter passes by a vending machine on the way to the bathroom. If she says to herself, “Those cookies look really good. I’m really hungry and dinner won’t be for another few hours and since there’s no way I’ll be able to hold out, I might as well just have these cookies now,” she’s probably going to end up having them.

But take the same situation – it’s 4:00 and a dieter passes by the vending machine on the way to the bathroom but this time she says to herself, “Those cookies look really good. I’m really hungry but I know that if I have these now, then I can’t have the dessert I’ve already planned to have after dinner. I absolutely don’t need these cookies and I just need to either go have the healthy snack I have at my desk or wait until dinner,” then she’s probably NOT going to have them.

Once we help dieters figure out which sabotaging thoughts they are having in any particular situation, we can help them come up with really strong responses to them so that dieters are no longer at the mercy of these thoughts.