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A Letter from a Dieter

We recently received the following letter from Mary, a dieter using The Beck Diet Solution program. Like many dieters, she went through the program more than once and in doing so was fully able to absorb all of the different ideas, techniques, and skills. Also, like many dieters, Mary found that there were one or two particular concepts and responses that were particularly resonant and helpful to her, which she then successfully applied to both dieting and her life in general. We certainly found Mary’s letter inspiring and we hope you do as well. Way to go, Mary, and thank you so much for the letter!

Dear Dr. Beck:

I am using the Beck Diet Solution for the second time and I want to share the idea that has most changed my thinking and attitude. It’s the idea of “Oh well”. I practiced it the first time around but, for whatever reason, it didn’t sink in. It has now. There may be many ways of interpreting this idea but this is how it worked for me.

I think about my diet, my food plan, what I ate yesterday, what I didn’t eat yesterday, what I overate yesterday, what I’ll eat today, tomorrow, forever…etc. etc. ALL THE TIME! I have been doing it for years. Whether I am dieting or not, I constantly think about my weight and what I eat. It’s not as if I’m giving my brain a break when I am not on a diet…..I think about all this stuff anyway. And when I’m not watching my diet, I feel pretty disappointed in myself.

I finally got it through my head that if I am going to think about all of this anyway, every day, whether I am dieting or not, I have a choice. I can either think about it and be disappointed or think about it and be satisfied. Sheesh!!….I might as well feel satisfied. I finally faced the fact that I will be thinking about what I eat every day for the rest of my life and this is what I have to do in order to maintain my weight loss. Oh well.

I created a Response Card and read it daily. I just wanted you to know how much it has helped me, along with the many other valuable ideas in your book.

Thank you,
Mary O

They’re Working at it, Too

Jamie came into session this week and reported that she has a revelatory experience over the weekend. She was at a dinner party at her sister’s house and was seated next to a (thin) woman named Deanna with whom Jamie had a mild acquaintance. Jamie told me that without even really meaning to, she kept an eye on what Deanna was eating that night and was very surprised to realize that Deanna ate a larger portion of salad with the dressing on the side, had reasonable portions of chicken and asparagus, and had a small portion of the wild rice that was served. She also had no bread, no other side dishes, and nursed one glass of wine throughout dinner. When dessert was served, Deanna passed on the cheesecake and instead ate fresh berries that were served along with it.

Reflecting upon what Deanna ate, Jamie had the realization: she’s working on watching her eating, too. Although theoretically Jamie knows that every thin person she sees is not necessarily naturally thin, it is easy for Jamie to forget this and to think, “It’s not fair that she is thin naturally and I have to work at it.” Jamie confessed that she had always assumed that Deanna was one of the naturally thin people that stayed that way without having to go through any effort. But in observing what Deanna ate at the dinner party, and especially in observing all of the things she didn’t eat, Jamie was once again reminded that many people look the way that they do through hard work and diligence.

Jamie and I talked about what this realization meant for her and Jamie said that once again becoming aware that she is not the only one who has to work at dieting helps counter a lot of her, “it’s not fair that…” thoughts. Jamie and I discussed that while it’s true it’s not fair she has to work hard to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, everyone has unfairnesses in their lives and this happens to be one of hers. I also pointed out to Jamie that she is lucky because some people can’t do anything about their unfairnesses, but this is one that, through hard work and practice, Jamie can and is learning to overcome. Jamie resolved to not let thoughts of unfairness get in the way of achieving her goals and decided that anytime she started to feel that it was unfair she had to work at dieting, she would remind herself, “It’s true it’s not fair, but at least there is something I can do about it,” and whenever she felt resentful looking at a thin person, she would remind herself, “I don’t know what she eats in a day and it’s very likely she’s working just as hard as I am.”

Ask the Diet Program Coordinator

I get a lot of questions from dieters on a daily basis, via email, phone, tweets, Facebook messages, carrier pigeon, etc.  Today I’m going to answer a few of the most commonly asked ones.  If you have any questions that you would like to see answered on future “Ask the Diet Program Coordinator” segments, feel free to post them in the comments section.

Q: Is it better to cut tempting food out of my life when I’m dieting?

A: In our experience, the answer to this question is no, you should not cut anything out of your diet that you plan to begin eating again at some point, whether it be three months or three years from now.  The reason for this is because if, let’s say, you cut out all bread from your life even though you really love it, chances are at some point in the future you are going to wind up eating it again.  If you have the idea in your head that bread=bad and after this one time you won’t be eating it again, then you will likely end up eating a lot more bread than you would if you were having it every day, because subconsciously you’ll be thinking “this might be the last time I allow myself to have bread for a long time so I better load up now.” Additionally, because you had some bread at that meal, you might also then be tempted to think “Well I’ve made one mistake, I might as well keep eating whatever I want and get back on track later.”  However, ‘later” might not end up being the next meal or even the next day and it could take a lot longer than that to get back on track. 

Because of these reasons, we find that it works better to learn specific cognitive and behavioral skills which will enable you to eat some of your favorite foods while staying in control and not eating more than you planned.  While this is not easy in the beginning, it’s so worth it.  If you want to eat it in the future, learn how to eat it today.

Q:  How do I deal with the desire to be heavy for psychological reasons?  Since I was little I’ve used eating as a way to put a barrier between myself and other people and I can’t seem to get past that as an adult.

A: People develop coping strategies for any number of reasons and while they may work at the time, sometimes they eventually become unhelpful.  Try to keep reminding yourself why it is worth it to you to work past this now adverse coping technique and all of the myriad ways in which it is holding you back.  Try making a list of all of the advantages of losing weight AND all the advantages of overcoming the desire to stay heavy.  Read them both daily as motivation to keep working toward your goals.  Another thing that we recommend people do is just set a goal to lose 5 pounds.  Once you reach that goal, make the decision of whether or not to set another 5 pound goal.  That way you don’t have the stress of thinking about completely changing your body right away, because in reality it wouldn’t happen that way anyway.

 While we know that this can be a difficult thing to work through, we’ve also seen and helped people do this successfully and it is so gratifying when they finally shed this thing that has been holding them back for years and years. 

Q: What should I do when dieting starts to feel really unfair?

A: Dieters feel the “unfairness factor” at different times and for different reasons.  It may happen when they are having a craving for something that is not on their plan, when they are watching other people eat something they want, or when dieting on that particular day feels especially difficult and onerous.  Regardless of why the feeling of unfairness arose, the ways to deal with it are often the same.

 First of all, it’s important for dieters to validate their feelings: Yes, dieting is unfair, and it’s not fair that the vast majority of people can’t eat whatever they want whenever they want, and also have the body and health that they want.  But unfortunately, that is reality.  Dieters need to remind themselves that either way they will feel some unfairness, whether it is because they can’t eat everything they want or because they can’t achieve and maintain the health and weight they really want.  And really, which is the bigger unfairness: giving up eating some (not all!) of the foods they want, or never being able reach and maintain a healthy weight, feel good about themselves, be more confident, achieve a sense of pride, etc.

It’s also important for dieters to counter this feeling of unfairness by reminding themselves of just why it’s worth it to them to keep staying on track.  This is why we have all of our dieters write out a list of all the advantages of losing weight and read it daily.  When dieters have a craving for something and find it very unfair that they can’t give in, it’s so important for them, in that moment, to remember why it’s worth it to NOT give in. When dieters are not thinking about why they want to stand firm and instead are thinking about how unfair dieting is, then it is much, much more likely that they will give in to the craving. 

Yes, dieting can be unfair.  But the greatest unfairness would be if dieters let this feeling stand in the way of achieving their extremely important goals.  There will always be unfairness in life, but dieters don’t have to let overweight be one of them.