Today I had a session with my client, Jane. I hadn’t had a session with Jane in a few months. She told me she has been feeling somewhat off track over the last few weeks. She also told me that her portions have gotten bigger again and she’s snacking at random times throughout the day, among other difficulties.
Here at the Beck Institute’s Diet Program, we don’t necessarily have a firm guideline on how often our clients should weigh themselves. For some people it works to do it every day, and for some just once a week. One of the benefits of getting on the scale every day is that it more quickly accustoms dieters to the fact that their weight will definitely NOT go down every single day (or even every week). We always tell our dieters that when they step on the scale, their weight should be plus or minus two pounds of where it was the day before. There could be any number of reasons to account for why a dieter’s weight might up on any particular day that have nothing to do with how well or not well their diet is working, such as eating something salty the night before, hormonal changes, retaining water, or other bodily functions. If dieters weigh themselves only once a week, it takes much longer for them to gather enough evidence to see that their weight won’t go down every day, or even every week, but this is normal and what is supposed to happen. Dieters who weigh in weekly may happen to get on the scale the one day that week in which their weight is abnormally up – and then they get very discouraged and sometimes contemplate quitting, even when nothing is really wrong.
We prepare our dieters with this knowledge and from there let them decide how often they want to get on the scale. Most dieters end up trying it both ways and then figuring out which feels better to them. When Jamie came to see me this week, this is something she was trying to work through. She was having a very hard time getting herself on the scale every morning (when she had lost weight the first time she weighed in every morning, and then when she started gaining weight she avoided the scale altogether), but she also had strong memories of how helpful it was when she was losing weight the first time, and how it really facilitated her in controlling her night eating.
Jamie and I discussed various options for how she should handle this, and we talked about what sabotaging thoughts she was having that made getting on the scale in the morning so hard. Jamie identified that she was having sabotaging thoughts such as, “If my weight is up it means: I’ve failed; I’m never going to be able to lose weight again; I’m a bad person; nothing is working.” Jamie and I came up with helpful responses to these thoughts, including that she would remind herself that her weight has nothing to do with who she is as a person or her value, she was able to lose weight in the past which means she’ll be able to do it again, she has already proven to herself before that just because the scale goes up one day it doesn’t mean her diet isn’t working, there’s no such thing as failing as long as she keeps working towards her goals, it’s okay if she stumbles from time to time because she’s only human, and it’s worth it to her to push through the discomfort because she knows getting on the scale will be worth it in the end. Jamie made response cards for each of the new, helpful responses and committed to reading them every morning before she gets on the scale.
How often have you noticed that formerly normal weight people have gradually gained weight throughout the years? Or dieters who have lost a significant amount of weight and then gained it back quickly? Should people even try to lose weight at all? The answer is yes, if they are already having weight-related health problems or if they are putting on extra weight every year and so are likely to have health problems in the future. On the other hand, studies that have examined how much weight people are able to lose and how much they are able to keep off long term are fairly dismal. Most people gain weight back. Here is a sure fire formula for gaining weight:
- Lose weight quickly.
- Go back to your old way of eating when you lose weight.
- Continue to eat and exercise exactly as you have been as you get older.
- Eat in the way “everyone else” is.
- Make excuses for why it’s okay to eat when you shouldn’t.
Each of these items is explained below.
- Lose weight quickly: One of the best ways to gain weight quickly is to drastically cut your calories. Research shows that the faster people lose weight, the faster they tend to regain it.
- Go back to your old way of eating when you lose weight: It’s plain biology. If you lose weight on 1200 calories a day, for example, and then your weight plateaus, you will start to gain weight back once you go up to 1300 calories a day. That’s the equivalent of one good sized apple or four crackers. And if you return to eating 2,000 or 3,000 calories, as perhaps you did before, of course your weight will increase.
- Continue to eat and exercise exactly as you have been as you get older: It seems unfair, but it’s true. Metabolism tends to decrease with age. If you don’t start eating less and/or exercising more, you’ll gain weight. Now it’s reasonable to gain a little weight, especially if you’re eating in a healthy way, but those pounds can really add up as the decades go by.
- Eat in the same way you assume everyone else is: It’s possible that you know the rare person who can consume a great number of calories a day and not gain weight. But it’s more likely that the people you know (especially if they’re over 40), are either restricting their eating in some way or are themselves gaining weight each year. In any case, it’s irrelevant. If you don’t want to gain weight, you’ll need to figure out what’s right for you to eat—which isn’t necessarily right for another person.
- Make excuses for why it’s okay to eat when you shouldn’t: Your body processes calories in exactly the same way, regardless of circumstances. It doesn’t care if you’re stressed, tired, or celebrating; if it’s a special occasion; if no one is watching you eat; or if the food is free. It may be reasonable to plan in advance to eat a little more in some circumstances but understand that if you don’t compensate by exercising more or cutting an equivalent number of calories another time, you will gain weight.
It seems unfair. It’s so hard to lose weight and so easy to gain it back. But once you learn the cognitive (thinking) and behavioral skills you need, the process of losing and maintaining a weight loss (it’s the same process!) becomes much easier.
Sue has been weighing herself daily and graphing her weight loss. She has now proven to herself several times that the number on the scale goes down some days, stays the same some days, and goes up some days—even when her energy input and output is the same! Nevertheless, she continues to be disappointed, and a little worried, when her weight is up, even by only a pound. I had her compose two Response Cards. She’ll choose which one to read before her daily weigh-in.
|If I’ve Been Following My Plan
People often ask me why I suggest that dieters (without eating disorders) weigh themselves daily, instead of weekly, monthly, or not at all. Here’s why:
1. You need to be accountable. It’s too easy to let yourself stray from your plan if you know you won’t have to face the music right away. Many dieters have told me: “I think I would have cheated except I knew I had to weigh myself the next morning. It’s the only thing that stopped me.”
2. You need to become desensitized to the number on the scale. It’s important for you to practice saying to yourself, day after day, “This number is just a piece of information, like my blood pressure or my temperature. It has nothing to do with who I am as a person.”
3. You need to learn about weight variation. Many dieters think that they should lose at least a little weight every single day if they’ve been faithful to their eating plan. Here’s the truth: Your weight should NOT decrease every day. It’s biologically impossible. Even if you’ve taken in fewer calories than you expended, your weight may remain the same or go up due to hormones, lack of sleep, water retention, and so forth. You cannot lose weight every single day.
4. You need to minimize discouragement. Let’s say you weigh yourself once a week. If your weight is up that one day (for one of the reasons listed above), you may want to quit because you assume it’s been up all week. “It’s not worth it!” a lot of dieters say. “Here I’ve been working so hard at sticking to my diet all week and the scale is up!” Weighing yourself daily—and especially graphing your weight changes– allows you to take the ups and downs in your stride.
Our veteran dieter, Brian, came in for a booster session this fall. He had maintained his sizable weight loss for over a year but had recently gained back 4 pounds. Because he had developed a general plan of what to eat everyday, he was no longer writing down meal plans and so wasn’t sure where the extra weight had come from. We discussed what he had been eating and asked him if he was doing any unplanned snacking. Brian realized that over the past few weeks he had slowly started eating more snacks. The problem was that as he became accustomed to eating more frequently, it began to feel normal to him to eat all throughout the day. After a little while, Brian got into the habit of eating whenever he felt a little bit hungry or just felt like eating. At first he didn’t even realize that he had made this shift because it was a gradual but steady process. He had stopped weighing himself daily, too, and the 4 pound gain came as a surprise.
We discussed with Brian all of the skills he had initially learned that helped him stick to his food plan: telling himself “No Choice,” reminding himself that he would be eating again soon, that hunger is never an emergency, and that he can’t have it both ways – he can’t snack whenever he feels like it and lose weight and keep it off (Days 12 and 16 of The Beck Diet Solution). Since maintaining his weight loss was still a very important goal to Brian, he knew that it was worth it to start practicing all of his skills again, including making food plans.
For a couple of weeks Brian wrote food plans each night and made sure to include a reasonable number of snacks (Day 15 of The Beck Diet Solution Weight Loss Workbook). Because he had practiced it so much in the past, Brian was able to stick to his food plans and cut out the unnecessary snacking he had been doing. Brian reported that since doing this, the 4 pounds have come off easily. But more importantly, not only is Brian back to only eating at planned times, but he has also proven to himself that if he does in the future gain a little bit of weight again, he has all the necessary skills and techniques to get back to his maintenance weight.
About five months ago, Roxanne made the decision to stop losing weight and start maintaining. Since making that decision, Roxanne has been able to stop writing down a formal food plan each night and instead just has a general sense of what/how much she’s going to eat each day. Like most successful maintainers, this has been fairly easy for Roxanne because she finds herself eating basically the same type of things for breakfast and lunch each day, with the only big variations being at dinner time.
Although Roxanne is no longer trying to lose weight, she still employs many of the same techniques and strategies she did while she was on the way down. She still consistently reads her Advantages List (discussed on Day 1 of The Beck Diet Solution) and Response Cards almost every day, and certainly whenever she’s going into a high-risk situation like a party or a reception. She still continues to weigh herself each morning and consistently makes a conscience effort to eat everything slowly, while sitting down, and to enjoy every bite (Days 3, 5, and 21).
Because she weighs herself every morning, Roxanne has noticed that for the past two weeks her weight has been up a little bit. Rather than ignore the weight gain and hope that it goes away, Roxanne had decided to take steps to get herself firmly back on track so a small weight gain doesn’t turn into a thirty pound gain. For the next couple of weeks, Roxanne is going to go back to making a written a food plan each evening for the next day, so she’ll know exactly how many calories she’s taking in. With this strategy in hand, Roxanne is 100% confident that she will get back down to her Lowest Maintainable Weight (Chapter 11).
This is precisely what will enable Roxanne maintain her weight loss for the rest of her life. Whenever the scale is up by three pounds, she’ll just go back to writing down a plan and sticking to it – a skill she learned how to do well while following the Beck Diet Solution program. Because she weighs herself each morning, Roxanne never has to worry about gaining back a lot of weight because she will always know when a small weight gain has occurred and the steps she needs to take to correct the imbalance.
Diana’s weight loss had reached a plateau for quite a while. We discussed with Diana the fact that this often happens to dieters as they’re losing weight. Initially they are able to lose a certain amount given the number of calories they are taking in versus the number they are expending. But as they lose weight, their bodies require fewer calories. Many dieters, if they do not continue to decrease their calorie consumption (or increase their exercise), find that their weight loss stagnates (discussed on Day 38 of The Beck Diet Solution). When this happens, it’s very easy for them to become discouraged (Day 24) and blame themselves, thinking they just can’t lose weight.
Diana recently decided to cut her calories a little and increase her exercise a little to see what happens. She recognized that enough time has gone by—and her weight hadn’t budged. She sees that it’s wishful thinking to expect that she’ll suddenly begin to lose weight again without doing anything differently. She’s disappointed that she has to eat less, but she’s realistic. If she wants her weight loss to continue, she has to make some changes. Diana has since decreased her number of calories and is making an effort to take lunchtime walks. She reports that her pants already feel looser.
We have now reached the six-month mark for our diet group. Our dieters are all back to work and recovering from the holiday season. For the most part, they maintained their weight this week, which was the major goal. Some of our dieters report that, in the past, they gained five or more pounds over the Christmas/New Year’s week, so they were thrilled to step on the scale and find that they hadn’t gained any weight at all!
Speaking of stepping on the scale, one of the ideas we discussed during out meeting yesterday was how important weighing yourself is (a skill learned in Day 21 of The Beck Diet Solution). Some of our dieters do it only once a week, at our meeting, and some do it every morning at home. But whether it’s every day or once a week, weighing yourself is extremely important to weight loss and weight maintenance (Chapter 12 of The Beck Diet Solution). Sometimes our dieters don’t want to weigh in at the meeting if they think they’ve gained weight, but we discussed how it’s most important to weigh in at these times! Not weighing yourself allows you to stick your head in the sand and not face the problem, if there is one.
Brenda says that this is an issue she’s struggled with before. In the past, when she was dieting and losing weight Brenda would weigh herself consistently. But the moment she feared she’d put on a pound or two, she would avoid the scale. This prevented her from identifying and fixing any problems. And even though she didn’t get on the scale, she would feel demoralized, would continue to eat out of control, and then would gain back all the weight she had lost. This time, though, Brenda is doing things differently. She’s weighing in every week during our group meeting and she just made a New Year’s resolution to weigh herself every day at home.
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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