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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.

Diet Hurdles and Bumps Along the Way

Andrea, a dieter I’m counseling, was so glad I had prepared her well for a more difficult time. At her second session with me, I asked her to write a response card to read every morning, in preparation for the first day that dieting would seem hard. It said:

 “Dieting is supposed to get hard. That’s okay. Just keep practicing your skills and it will get easy again.”

 Andrea sailed along all fall, losing weight steadily and fairly easily, and she was gaining confidence. But two weeks ago, dieting got harder. Holiday stress, too busy a schedule, not enough sleep, less control over her food—all these factors made it difficult for Andrea to stick to her plan. But she did! She said if she hadn’t been reading the card all along, she would have given up.

It’s perfectly normal and natural for a dieter–no matter how motivated or “good” of a dieter she or he is– to encounter a few bumps along the road.

In fact, the whole thrust of the Beck Diet Solution program is to prepare dieters for the difficult times. EVERY dieter encounters hurdles; some within the first few days, some (like Andrea) not for months, but at some point, dieting gets harder for everyone. It’s supposed to. (Maybe you’re more stressed, maybe you’re experiencing some physiological changes, maybe you’re feeling less motivated, etc.)

If dieting seems easy initially, it’s easy to get fooled and think it will always be easy. Hurdles don’t necessarily crop up at the beginning. Dieters are often so motivated when they first initiate a diet that they easily arrange their lives to make time for dieting (shopping, cooking, etc.), tolerate hunger, etc., and they don’t really experience a hurdle until their motivation flags or their life changes in some way or they feel more stressed. For other dieters, hurdles are experienced even on the first day.  They might, for example, have sabotaging thoughts such as, “I don’t have time to get the food I need.” “I can’t disappoint my friend by having just one drink tonight.”  It’s important for ALL dieters to prepare themselves for the hurdles they’ll experience. Creating (reading, and re-reading, daily) cards with their own advantages for losing weight and their responses to sabotaging thoughts is crucial to overcoming hurdles.