Sue: Part 2

Sue has a very demanding job. She can’t predict when she’ll have time to eat or what food will be served. We talked about the necessity of always bringing a back-up meal with her on workdays, something that won’t spoil. If it turns out that the food that’s served is healthy, she can save the back-up food for another day.

I later emailed the following message to Sue: If packing food ever seems like a burden, realize that you’re not alone. Some people with metabolic problems have to do exactly the same thing because they have to eat certain categories of food and they have to eat regularly.

I also wrote: Do you think you could put packing a back-up meal in the same habit category as brushing your teeth or taking a shower? They are things you do daily, whether you feel like it or not. You don’t struggle with doing them because you’ve decided these habits are essential. You just do them. The sooner you put “packing a meal” in a “no choice” category, the less you’ll struggle and the more successful you’ll be.

Sue: Part 1

I started working with a new dieter today. Sue has already lost 50 pounds on her own. In fact, she has lost 50 pounds several times in her life—and always gained it back. She doesn’t want that to happen this time. She’s committed to learning the lifetime skills she’ll need so that this time, she can be successful.

Sue would like to lose more weight but understands that we won’t know what a reasonable maintenance weight will be until she gets there; that is, the weight she is when she’s eating a healthy diet she can sustain for life.

We haven’t talked much about what and when Sue eats. I don’t want to focus much on food until she’s learned the essential preliminary skills. It would be too hard to focus on learning these skills and changing what she eats at the same time.

Today we concentrated on the reasons Sue wants to lose weight. She’ll copy some reasons from The Beck Diet Solution and add as many more as she can think of. (She’s going to put the list in her iPhone.) I urged Sue  to turn a general reason such as “I’ll have more energy” into several specific reasons:

  • “I’ll have more energy on the job”
  • “I’ll have more energy to see my friends at night”
  • “I’ll have more energy to enjoy bicycling on the weekend”

Since she’s already achieved a fantastic weight loss, she’ll also add to the list positive experiences she’s having day to day that relate to losing weight. For example, she told me she cried (for joy!) in the dressing room the other day when she was able to fit into size 10 pants. She’ll add every compliment she gets to the list, too.

We also developed a system for Sue to remember to read this list every morning and at her most difficult part of the day: 3 pm. Sue decided to set the alarm on her phone to alert her when it’s time to read the list. She said she was 100% sure she would follow through with these assignments—she didn’t think any “sabotaging thoughts” would get in the way (e.g., “I don’t have to read the list—I know what’s on it.”). Sue “gets” it. She may not need to constantly remind herself now why it’s so worth it to stick to her eating plan but she has to have these reasons firmly entrenched in her mind for the times when temptation is great.

I’m looking forward to more sessions with Sue!

Forget about Perfection

Many dieters have an interesting sabotaging thought: “Because I wasn’t perfect on my diet just now (i.e., because I just cheated), I may as well give up (and start again tomorrow).” It’s a cleverly hidden excuse.

Dieters who have read The Beck Diet Solution (or one of the other books) may also have a sabotaging thought about the program contained in it. “Since I’m not following the program perfectly, I may as well stop following it altogether.”

But these ideas really don’t make sense. After all, if you found you had made a mistake in balancing your checkbook, would you stop balancing it at all? If you forgot to call a family member on his birthday, would you not call at all? In what other context of life would you postpone or even abandon a goal that’s important to you, just because you made a mistake?

I think what’s really going on with dieters, when they eat something they shouldn’t, is the idea, “I don’t want to hold myself in check. I want to give myself permission to continue to eat.” After all, dieters know that there is a huge difference between eating an unplanned piece of cake (which is maybe 350 calories that won’t even show up on the scale in a few days) and eating the cake and ice cream and pretzels and chips and cookies—and anything else they desire—and starting again (at best) the next day. Just think, if every time in the past when you made a mistake, you limited it to one piece. You wouldn’t still be struggling with your weight after all these years.

And let’s say that you just don’t have the time right now to implement every step in the program. Isn’t it better to do as much as you can, rather than abandoning the program altogether?

One helpful way to respond to perfectionistic sabotaging thoughts is to think to yourself, “What would I tell my best friend if she were in this situation and had this thought?” I would bet that you’d be good at giving advice to her. Now you just need to give that same advice to yourself.

The “Right” Way to Weigh

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.