Lisa, who had had an absolute rule (which she occasionally broke big time) against eating junk food, had recently started allowing herself to have a moderate portion of a favorite food every day. Some of the food she enjoyed immensely, in fact, more than before, because she was able to eat it guilt free. But sometimes the food, for example, certain kinds of candy, just did not taste as good as she had remembered. We discussed the possibility that because she had denied herself these foods for so long, she had built up a fantasy about how delicious they were. When she finally ate them, she judged that they were good, but not great. Then there were other foods which she really liked, such as cookies, but she realized that she only liked them if she could eat and eat and eat them. It wasn’t satisfying to just have a moderate portion. Lisa is now learning how to eat any food in moderation and she’s discovering which foods she really enjoys and which just aren’t worth it.
Lisa was confused. For a very long time, before she started the program in The Beck Diet Solution, she had tried, as much as possible, to avoid certain foods completely, for example, candy, ice cream, and cookies. She was frankly a little astonished when I suggested that she should allow herself to have one favorite food a day.
Dr. Beck: You know, you’ve gotten really good at following your plan. Can we talk about adding in some of your favorite foods? I think you said you rarely let yourself have candy and ice cream.
Lisa: I thought I should never eat those foods.
Dr. Beck: What’s been your experience in eating them in the past?
Lisa: Well, I never allow myself to have them, but I guess I always slip and end up eating them sometimes, even when I don’t intend to.
Dr. Beck: When you eat them—do you have moderate portions?
Lisa: No, I tend to go hog wild. I never have, say, 5 pieces of licorice. I either have none or half the bag.
Dr. Beck: You know, I don’t think it’s realistic—or necessary—for you to ban these foods altogether.
Lisa: But I’m afraid I’ll go way overboard.
Dr. Beck: What would you think about doing an experiment this week? I think you’re ready. Let’s pick a couple of foods, have you bring a single serving into your house each day, and see what happens.
Lisa: [slowly] Okay….
Dr. Beck: Would you like to try licorice? You can either buy a bag, portion out a single serving, and throw the rest away—even outside the supermarket. Or you could put portions in bags at home and make all but one really inaccessible, for example, at the back of the highest shelf in your apartment.
Lisa: I could try that. I think I’d be okay if I put the bags behind my suitcases high up in the utility closet.
Dr. Beck: Then each day, you take down just one bag. It’s probably best to save the licorice for before bedtime. Then you can look forward to it all day.
Dr. Beck: So some time in the evening, read your reasons to lose weight and your response cards. Then really enjoy the licorice, eat it slowly, and when you finish, brush your teeth and get in bed, so you’ll be tucked away if you have a craving for more.
Lisa was nervous about doing the experiment but excited that she could actually plan to eat some foods she had forbidden herself. The experiment actually worked quite well. That week, she had licorice three times, a candy bar three times, and ice cream once. She didn’t lose control. She found about half the time she did want more but was easily able to stop and was proud of herself for stopping. In the future, we’ll work on getting Lisa to having larger quantities of some favorite foods in her kitchen and limiting her self-serving to one moderate portion a day.
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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