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When Did Special Treats become the Everyday Norm?

When did it happen? When did we Americans go from an occasional piece of pizza to having multiple slices throughout the week? When did we go from the occasional soda to drinking sugary soft drinks throughout the day? When did we go from a weekly overindulgence, such as a big dinner on Saturday night, to excess food every evening?

Now, I’m not against special treats. In fact, I advise people to have a moderate portion of a favorite food every day. But not more than ONE. And they have to make sure the rest of their food intake is healthy and moderate, too.

I asked Marc, a dieter who consulted with me, what a typical day of eating was like for him. Here’s what he described: He would have some kind of sweet pastry for breakfast; packaged cheese crackers and/or chips for a mid-morning snack; a large hamburger, fries, coleslaw and soda for lunch; cookies and/or a doughnut with another soda for a mid-afternoon snack; a large entree such as lasagna, bread, salad and two beers for dinner; and candy and ice cream for a snack. He knew that he was eating too much unhealthy food. But at some level, it felt “right” to him, even though he was borderline obese and suffering from health problems. He felt entitled to eat that way. After all, it wasn’t very different from how his brother and best friend ate—though he saw that they had gained a significant amount of weight in the previous five years, too.  

Over time, I helped Marc change his attitude toward food. He began to see that his way of eating was “right” if he wanted the negative health consequences of carrying around excess weight to continue—and to likely grow worse. He began to see that his way of eating was “wrong” if he wanted to be fitter and healthier. Even as he was losing a significant amount of weight, Marc still occasionally mourned not being able to eat as he had in the past. At these times, he needed to review his list of all the reasons it was worth it to stick to a healthier way of eating. And he needed to read a response card that reminded him that the excess and unhealthy food he had been accustomed to consuming was “right”, only if he wanted to be obese. The concept of “only one favorite food a day” eventually became Marc’s new norm; he stopped grieving and was able to fully celebrate how much better he felt.

What a Relief

When Mark sat down in my office this week, he said, “Before we start, can I just tell you how relieved I feel?” When I said, “Of course,” Mark told me:

“I finally get it. I do. Cravings go away. I don’t have to eat to make them go away. When I’m tempted, the more I say, ‘Don’t worry, you’re going to eat again at ______ o’clock, the easier and easier it gets.’ ”

I asked Mark to give me an example.

“It happened again late yesterday afternoon. A vendor brought some cookies—really big ones—to the office. I really started craving one but I said to myself, ‘No, you’ve already had your snack and you’re going to have dinner at 6:30. So no choice. Get back to work.’ I had to make a phone call and by the time it was over, the craving was gone. It was like, “Well, it’d be nice to have a cookie but I know I’m not going to have it.” I can’t tell you what a relief it is to know that I can make a craving go away, that I don’t have to give in to it. I know, I know, you’ve been telling me this all along but somehow it really clicked yesterday.”

 I asked Mark if we should write something about this on a Response Card that he could read regularly to really cement the idea in his mind. This is what he wrote:

Cravings really do go away. I don’t have to be at their mercy any more. Remember the March 30th cookie situation. When I finished the phone call, the craving had gone away.

 Mark is typical of the dieters with whom I work. It makes sense to them intellectually that cravings go away, especially when they turn their attention to something else, but they don’t really believe it in their gut—not until they’ve had repeated experiences of finding this out for themselves. And when they do, like Mark, they tend to experience a profound sense of relief.