Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Sometimes the old adage, “out of sight, out of mind,” can be extremely useful for dieters to keep in mind. Take the dieter who walks into the break room at work to get a cup of coffee and suddenly sees a box of donuts on the table. She might immediately think, “Those look so good, I really want to have one.” Let’s say the dieter resists and then goes back to her desk with her coffee. She might then spend the next few minutes or hours thinking, “I really want one of those donuts,” or “it’s not fair that I can’t have a donut,” and mentally struggling with whether or not to go back for one. The interesting thing about this (extremely common) scenario is that if the dieter had never walked into the break room and seen the donuts, she probably would never have wanted one in the first place and she definitely wouldn’t have had to think about whether or not to have one for the next few hours. In situations like this we remind dieters that they are not really being deprived of a donut because if they had not seen them, the possibility would never have existed.

Jamie had a situation similar to this over the weekend when she attended a friend’s wedding. Jamie told me she went into the wedding with the plan of having one or two glasses of wine, only raw vegetables during cocktail hour, eating about half of her entrée, and having a small piece of cake for dessert. This was her plan because she knew that the food would be rich and even taking in that amount would be more than she would normally eat. Jamie stuck to her plan during cocktail hour and dinner and then got busy dancing and talking to her friends. Jamie was having a great time and at some point someone mentioned to her that the desserts were out but were in separate room. Jamie realized at that moment that she hadn’t even remembered her plan to have a small piece of cake because she hadn’t seen the desserts and therefore hadn’t thought about it (which she found surprising as she loves wedding cake).

At that point Jamie had to decide whether or not to actually go into the dessert room to seek it out. Jamie thought about it and realized that because the wedding cake wasn’t prominently displayed, her natural association between weddings and cake broke, which proved to Jamie that part of the reason she always had wedding cake was because she saw everyone else eating it. Jamie also thought about the fact that if she did go into the dessert room, likely she would be confronted with a lot more desserts that she would be able to eat and might end up feeling deprived. Because at that moment Jamie wasn’t feeling deprived since she wasn’t looking at all the desserts she wasn’t eating, and because she was also feeling good about what she had eaten, Jamie decided to forgo the dessert room and continue having fun.

Jamie and I discussed this situation in session and how powerful “out of sight, out of mind,” can be because by not seeing the desserts, it was easy for her not to have any. Jamie anticipated my first question and told me that looking back now, she was definitely not sorry she didn’t have any cake and instead felt proud of herself for how well she did at the wedding. Jamie and I discussed what she can learn from this situation and I helped her write a new Response Card so that she could remember this experience. Jamie’s card said, “If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have wanted it anyway. Just pretend it doesn’t exist and move on – I’ll be so happy later if I do.”

Dealing with Food Pushers

Laura was bothered by a comment her sister-in-law, Rosemary, made at a family gathering two weeks ago. “Wow, you’ve really lost weight. Well, I don’t know if I can associate with you any more,” she said, with an edge in her voice. Laura knew that Rosemary was probably a little jealous, as her sister-in-law had struggled with her own weight for many years.

Laura was due to have dinner at Rosemary’s house a few days later. She was certain that Rosemary would push dessert on her, as she had many times in the past. If Laura politely declined the dessert, she predicted that Rosemary would challenge her: “Why can’t you eat like a normal person!!”  Laura had a series of unhelpful thoughts that got in the way of her coming up with a solution. She thought: “I can’t displease my sister-in-law.” “It would be terrible if I crossed her.” “I’m not entitled to stick up for myself.”

We discussed several options. Laura was tempted to eat the dessert, just to keep the peace, even though she preferred to have her favorite dessert later at home. But she recognized that she was entitled to stick up for herself and that if she didn’t, Rosemary would continue to try to control her.

Laura felt uncomfortable about being outright assertive. She wasn’t quite ready to say something such as, “Rosemary, please respect my wishes.”  She feared her sister-in-law, who regularly lashed out at people who disagreed with her, would become upset and embarrass Laura. She decided that she would say, “My doctor wants me to eat in a certain way.” Then Laura would immediately change the subject by asking Rosemary a question about her children. If Rosemary then said, “Come on, a little piece of cake won’t hurt you,” Laura was prepared to say, “No thanks. I’m afraid I have to follow doctors’ orders. But let’s talk about something else. How is your mother?”

The encounter went well. As predicted, Rosemary tried twice to get Laura to eat dessert. Laura stood her ground, though. She’s prepared to have a repeat of the experience the next couple of times she eats with Rosemary but she thinks three times will be the charm: her sister-in-law will get the message and stop pushing food on her.

Thanksgiving Plan: Rose

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

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

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

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

Celebratory Splurges?

On our post about Lori’s Busy Week, one reader asked whether she would be able to celebrate special occasions like birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries with food. Here was Judith Beck’s response, advice which you’ll find in different parts of The Beck Diet Solution.

I’m so glad you asked. What I suggest is that you plan in advance how you’re going to modify your diet on occasions like your birthday. It IS important to celebrate. However, if you want to be able to keep off whatever weight you lose, you do have to accept the fact that you just can’t eat whatever you want, in any quantity you want, without planning it in advance, even if it is a special day. So perhaps you’ll want to plan to eat an extra 500 (or even more) calories that day, knowing that you may not lose as much weight that week. But that’s fine! I don’t suggest that people overly skimp on food the day before or the day after, though, because doing so can trigger overeating.

You might also want to think right now about what other days fall into the special occasion category of eating more than usual. One trap people fall into is their idea, “It’s okay to always eat more than usual if it’s a special day.” Unfortunately, they put lots and lots of days in that category, not only their birthdays and anniversaries, but birthdays and anniversaries of family members and friends, parties, eating at other people’s houses, picnics, showers, family reunions, receptions, all holidays, and receptions.

So, absolutely, splurge on your birthday but plan to do so in advance. Then eat your birthday cake guilt-free! I know it’s hard to accept the fact that you need to change your eating, and not only while you’re actively losing weight. That you just can’t forget about your diet altogether on special days. That you still need to plan and restrict yourself. But I’m just being honest. And the payoff is that you’ll be able to enjoy the advantages of weight loss EVERY DAY: looking better, feeling better, being more self-confident, being healthier, having more energy, feeling better about yourself, etc., etc., etc.

Busy Week: Lori

In the meeting yesterday, Lori talked about what a busy week she has coming up.  Lots of meals out, a business trip out of town, and on top of it, her birthday on Friday.  In the past a week like this might have completely derailed Lori’s diet, but now she is going into it with confidence.

cafe.jpgLori has several strategies that will help her handle the coming week with ease.  First she will make sure to eat a normal breakfast and lunch every day.  Some dieters try to eat very little, if anything, for breakfast and/or lunch so they can eat big meals later in the day, especially if they are eating at a restaurant.  Lori knows that this simply doesn’t work and that not eating enough in the beginning part of the day will only lead her to significantly overeat later on (discussed on Day 2 of The Beck Diet Solution). 

Second, Lori is not at all concerned about her business trip because she knows that she will make wise decisions when eating out.  Because she won’t have complete control over her food, Lori also knows that it’s possible she will feel more hungry than usual, but she also knows that this is not something to fear and she most definitely can tolerate it (Day 12).

Last, in terms of her birthday, Lori has firmly talked back to her sabotaging thoughts that in the past would lead her to have a really big blow-out meal.  She now says that, “I know I have to eat mindfully for the rest of my life, so just because it’s my birthday, that’s not an excuse to eat a huge meal and dessert.” (Day 19).  Of course, like everyone else, Lori doesn’t necessarily like that she can’t eat with abandon on her birthday, but she’s accepted it and moved on because for her, being thin is so much more worth it. 

Standing Firm: Maria

It was Maria’s daughter’s birthday last week, so over the weekend Maria threw a sleepover party for her and her friends.  Maria knew that there would be a lot of tempting food around all evening and night and so she sat down ahead of time and planned out what and how much she would eat (discussed on Day 16 of The Beck Diet Solution).  Maria decided that the best way to approach this situation was to make sure she had lower calorie versions of the regular party food.  For herself she bought fat free hotdogs to eat instead of regular ones, a snack size bag of microwave popcorn instead of a buttery full-size bag, and 100-calorie packs of the same kind of cookies. 

For the most part everything went according to plan during the party.  Maria was able to enjoy her scaled-down version of the party food and didn’t feel deprived because she had prepared for the situation so well (Day 30).  However, there was one snag when Maria came face to face with a big bowl of gummy bears – a food she hadn’t anticipated wanting at all.  She suddenly developed a strong craving to eat them, and all at once the struggle started in her mind.  “It went back and forth,” Maria said, “like an angel and a devil on each shoulder.”  She had thoughts like, “It’s ok to eat the [unplanned] gummy bears because it’s a celebration; I really want it; it will just be one.”  She countered those sabotaging thoughts by telling herself, “It’s not ok to eat unplanned food.  Every time I eat something I’m not supposed to, it reinforces that bad habit.  Every time I resist unplanned food, it reinforces the good habit and increases the chance I will resist in the future.”  (Day 13). 

After a long struggle, Maria finally made the firm decision that she was absolutely not going to eat any gummy bears.  She went immediately to her refrigerator where she had posted her Advantages List (Day 1) and read it to remind herself of just why it was so important to her not to eat unplanned food.  As soon as the decision not to eat was made, Maria said that her craving immediately began to diminish and the urge to eat gummy bears eventually subsided.  This was an incredibly important experience for Maria because it showed her that cravings eventually pass and she doesn’t need to eat to get rid of them, and that she is strong and can be confident in the future of her ability to withstand uncomfortable cravings.

More Birthdays!

birthdayballoons.jpgThree of our dieters – Roxanne, Charlotte, and Diana – had birthdays in the past 2 weeks, and they reported that this birthday was very different from previous ones.  In the past all of our dieters have noted that they used their birthdays (and usually their friends and family’s birthdays, too!) as an excuse to overeat, telling themselves, “It’s ok to eat this because it’s a special occasion; I’m celebrating” (discussed on Day 19 of The Beck Diet Solution).  This year, however, things were very different. 

One of Roxanne’s friends thoughtfully baked her a cake, but knowing that Roxanne is trying to lose weight, she made a light angel food cake, using Splenda instead of sugar.  Roxanne was touched by the gesture, but because she hadn’t planned to eat cake that day, she didn’t allow herself to use her birthday as an excuse to eat unplanned food.  She took the cake home and enjoyed a piece the next day when she was able to work it into her plan.  In spite of her birthday, Roxanne lost a pound this week.

 Charlotte, a professor, had a similar experience.  One of her students baked a cake and brought it in for her department to enjoy.  Knowing that Charlotte was on a diet, the student made the cake healthier using applesauce instead of oil and left a section of it without icing.  Because of this, Charlotte was able to take part in the birthday celebration and still lose weight this week.

Diana, too, had a lot of people who wanted to commemorate her birthday.  However, she told everyone that she didn’t need a cake because she didn’t want to deal with having it around.  But this doesn’t mean that her friends weren’t able to find other ways to celebrate her birthday.  When she got home from work she found out that her coworkers had sent her a big bouquet of flowers – made out of fruit.

Our dieters this week handled their birthdays with ease and confidence.  We’re so proud of them!

Birthday: Diana

Diana’s birthday is on Wednesday and with it comes a multitude of food temptations – meals out, a party, cake, etc.  Diana’s family took her out to dinner on Sunday where they serve huge, family-style portions of food.  In the past Diana would have gone all out at such a meal, with the permission-giving thoughts, “It’s ok to eat this because I’m celebrating; it’s free; everyone else is eating it; I’ll hurt their feelings if I don’t eat a lot.”  This year, however, Diana was able to recognize these for what they really are – sabotaging thoughts that will cause her to stray from her diet (discussed on Day 25 of The Beck Diet Solution).  To counteract them, Diana firmly planned what she would eat before she got to the restaurant, read her Advantages List, and announced to her family in the car that she was not going to overeat (Day 30). 

Diana’s preparations paid off.  When she got to the restaurant, she was tempted by the smell and sight all of the food, but she resolutely stuck to her planned meal.  She passed up almost all of the tempting dishes her family ordered, knowing that she couldn’t eat them and still lose weight.  Diana reported that there were also quite a few birthdays at the restaurant that night, as the waiters were frequently bringing patrons huge slices of cake with candles.  Diana said her family tried to order a slice of birthday cake for her too, but because it wasn’t on her plan she refused the offer and instead had the low calorie desert she had planned when she returned home. 

Because Diana is very active in her church, they too wanted to celebrate her birthday by getting her a big cake.  Diana knew that she would be tempted by the cake and so she told her church that she didn’t want one, and instead they sang to her on Sunday, because “singing doesn’t have any calories.”  So far Diana is handling her birthday obstacles without difficulty; she lost 3 ½ pounds this week.

Reaching Maintenance: Carolyn

Week 32 of our diet group and the pounds continue to come off!  Our meeting on Monday was special because we were celebrating that now two of our dieters, Roxanne and Carolyn, have reached maintenance (discussed in Chapter 11 of The Beck Diet Solution). 

Carolyn, 57, had lost 18 pounds before coming to our group.  Since the group has started, she has not only maintained that weight loss but continued on to lose another 13 pounds.  Carolyn says that the reason she has been so successful is due to the fact that she has learned to make permanent changes in her lifestyle in regards to eating and exercising.  She says she doesn’t worry about gaining weight back because she will never go back to the way that she used to be.

Carolyn says that one of the biggest changes she’s made is learning to incorporate at least some exercise into her life each by taking every opportunity to do so (Day 9 of The Beck Diet Solution).  She now always parks her car in a far spot, walks the five flights up to her office, and routinely goes on a lunchtime walk, regardless of the weather. She now also practices much better eating habits, both at home and when eating out. 

buffet.jpgCarolyn went last week to an all-you-can-eat buffet with her family to celebrate a birthday.  “In the past I would have stuffed myself silly,” she says, “but this time was much different.”  Carolyn looked at all of the food options and then picked what she considered to be the best choices based on what was available (Day 30).  She took one plate that had a reasonable amount of food and did not go back for seconds, despite her husband’s urging.  Even though her husband told her she, “wasn’t getting her money’s worth,” Carolyn knew that in fact it was worth money to her not to overeat.  Carolyn left the buffet feeling satisfied and proud, and confident that this is a situation she can repeat in the future. 

Planned Indulgences: Lori

Lori, a 44 year old attorney, started dieting at the age of 14.  She says that she has attempted to lose weight, “too many times to count,” and has tried at least 5 different diets throughout the years.  In the past she’s lost as much as 35 pounds but started gaining it back within the year.  Lori has currently lost 32 pounds and is still going strong.  In general Lori says that she does not have a very big sweet tooth – almost always if she wanted a snack she would go for something salty, not sweet.  However, the one exception to this rule is a special chocolate cake she gets once a year at a retreat in January. 

One of the main things we try to teach our dieters is the importance of being able to work planned indulgences into their diets.  Deprivation diets and diets that are overly restrictive are just not sustainable over a long period of time because eventually life circumstances will intrude (birthdays, holidays, celebrations, etc).  If your diet does not allow for these types of occasions, chances are eventually you won’t be able to stick to it.  We want our dieters to become accustomed now to eating in a way they can maintain for the rest of their lives. cake.jpg

The retreat was last weekend, and even though Lori is currently on a diet and trying to lose weight, she did not have to forgo the chocolate cake she loves so much.  Instead, Lori decided that she would plan in advance to have a slice of cake, knowing it may slow down her weight loss for that week.  If she didn’t plan ahead of time to eat the cake, Lori knew that when she saw it she would really want it and would feel either very deprived, or would give in, eat it, and feel guilty.  Planning to have the cake allowed Lori to eat a reasonable amount and not feel deprived. 

At the meeting on Monday, Lori reported that she ate exactly what she had planned, that the chocolate cake was just as delicious as she remembered, and she enjoyed every bite.