For many dieters, staying in control of their eating is harder on weekends because their days are less structured. But remember, just because your time is less structured doesn’t mean your eating has to be! Sticking to a schedule (like continuing to have regular meals and snacks) can make staying on track throughout the weekends so much easier.
Any time you make a dieting mistake, it’s important to ask yourself, “Why did that happen? What can I do the next time to change the outcome?” Once you figure these two things out, move on!
In my last blog post, I detailed a session I had with my dieter, Amy, in which we focused on her mindset and plan for her upcoming birthday. When Amy returned for her session this week, we first discussed how things went on her birthday. Amy reported that it had all gone “amazingly well” and that she followed her birthday plan exactly as it was laid out.
Debbie: Last week we discussed some of the sabotaging thoughts you’ve experienced on previous birthdays. The thought, “I won’t be able to enjoy my birthday if I stay in control of my eating,” seemed particularly strong. Did that come up this time?
Amy: It did, actually, when I was reviewing my plan before the guests came—I was thinking, “This just doesn’t seem like enough for my birthday.”
Debbie: And were you able to respond to that thought?
Amy: Yes, I did. I reminded myself that I still get to eat two pieces of dessert. . . that I’ll be full after two pieces anyway, and that I really don’t need more food, whether or not it’s my birthday.
Debbie: That’s great! Did reminding yourself about these things help?
Amy: It did, and I also read my Response Cards which helped.
Debbie: Great. Were there other times throughout the night when you had sabotaging thoughts?
Amy: The only other time was after I had two pieces of dessert. I was looking at this really delicious cake that my sister had made and I was thinking, “I really want to have another slice. I know that cake tastes so good.”
Debbie: What did you do when you had that thought?
Amy: I excused myself and went to the bathroom to read my cards – again. And I kept thinking, “You won’t be happy when you go to bed tonight if you eat more cake. You’ve done so well all evening; don’t give in now.”
Debbie: And so you were able to resist?
Amy: I was, and once everybody left and all the leftovers had been put away, I was really happy I did.
Debbie: So, this may seem like an obvious question, but looking back – do you regret not eating more cake that night?
Amy: No! Not at all. And it was one of the first birthdays I can remember in which I went to bed not feeling stuffed. . . and instead, feeling really good about my eating. It was great.
Amy did really well on her birthday, although, as we predicted in our previous session, she did experience sabotaging thoughts. However, because we had taken time in advance to formulate responses to possible sabotaging thoughts and she had taken the time to prepare before her party, she was able to effectively respond to them and not give in. And, Amy experienced what most dieters eventually find to be true: once the event was over, she didn’t regret not eating more. In fact, instead of feeling deprived, she felt proud of herself for the things she didn’t eat because she was able to go to bed feeling good about herself and her eating.
Amy next told me about a challenging experience she had later that week. Two evenings after her birthday, she was reading before bed and found herself thinking about (and having a craving for) the leftover cake that she had wrapped up and put in the freezer after her party. Amy told me that she struggled for a while about whether or not to give in to her craving, but ultimately her sabotaging thoughts got the better of her; she ended up going downstairs and eating a large piece of cake.
Amy and I discussed this situation in more depth, including the sabotaging thoughts that led her to give in to a craving that night. Amy realized that one of her strongest sabotaging thoughts was, simply: “That cake was so good. I really want to eat some of it right now.” I asked Amy what her plan was supposed to have been for the leftover cake and she responded, “I don’t know, I hadn’t really thought about it.” Amy and I discussed this further and we realized that one of the reasons she was unable to effectively respond to her sabotaging thoughts that night was because she didn’t have a plan for when she was going to enjoy the rest of the cake. Because she didn’t have a plan, she was unable to say to herself (something like), “Even though I want to eat the cake right now, I’m planning on having it tomorrow, and I can definitely wait until then. Besides, if I eat it tomorrow when I’ve planned to, I will be able to enjoy it so much more because I won’t feel guilty about it.”
Amy and I then came up with a new rule for her: whenever she has a highly tempting food in her house, she is going to make a plan for when she’s going to eat it. We agreed that this will make it so much easier to resist cravings that arise at any one given moment, because she will know exactly when she does get to eat it.
This session with Amy is a good example of the importance of both successes and challenging “slip ups”. Even though Amy ended up giving in to a craving, we learned something very important from her experience. And we were able to figure out an important guideline for her which will help her handle similar challenges more easily in the future.
Sabotaging Thought: I don’t deserve credit for practicing my dieting skills because I should have been doing them all along.
Response: No I shouldn’t have! Before I started this program I didn’t know how to get myself to do these skills and besides, if it was easy, nobody would be overweight. Now that I’m learning, I deserve so much credit for my hard work every step of the way.
Just because food is free, doesn’t mean you should eat it (after all, it’s not calorie-free). Similarly, just because you've paid for it doesn’t necessarily mean you should eat the whole thing. If you eat extra food, even if it's free or you’ve paid for it, you’ll gain weight.
When dieters get off track, they sometimes forget how much better it feels to be in control of their eating and to be feeling good about themselves and their eating. If you’ve been off track, remind yourself how great getting back on track will feel and start right this moment!
Remember – no matter what your sabotaging thoughts try to convince you of (Eat a lot of extra dessert! You won't regret it! This one time doesn't matter! You’ll feel great if you go off track!), on track days FEEL SO MUCH BETTER. Have an on track weekend and GUARANTEED you won’t regret it come Monday morning.
Often much of the food dieters eat standing up doesn’t add to their sense of satisfaction – both physically and psychologically. Making the effort to eat everything sitting down may enable you to cut out hundreds of calories from your diet without even really noticing the difference.
Earlier this week I had a session with my dieter, Amy, whose birthday is coming up this weekend. Amy and I discussed her plans for her birthday — she explained that she and her husband will host a dinner party at their house for a few close friends and family. Amy told me that she was feeling somewhat anxious about this because, in the past, she has used her birthday as an excuse to overeat. She’s told herself things like, “Since it’s my birthday, it’s okay to eat whatever I want,” and, “I’ll have a bad birthday if I don’t eat everything I want,” which often led her to overeat on her birthday AND to continue to overeat for days, even weeks, later. Amy and I first discussed what we thought her mindset should be going into her birthday. We had the following conversation:
Debbie: Let’s talk about your birthday last year, if that’s okay with you.
Debbie: Okay, so what happened last year? Did you end up feeling good about your eating?
Amy: Oh no. I remember I was out to dinner with my husband and I was definitely thinking something like, “It’s my birthday, so I should order whatever I want,” and, “I won’t be able to have any fun at dinner or on my birthday if I restrict myself.” I ended up eating way too much at dinner. Then my husband had the waiter bring over a slice of carrot cake, my favorite dessert, with a candle in it—and I ended up eating all of that, too. By the time I got home, I was feeling out of control and ate lots more from the kitchen, even though I was really full by then and already feeling badly.
Debbie: And so was your thought true? Did you end up having fun because you didn’t restrict your eating at all?
Amy: No, it was just the opposite. I ended up feeling physically sick, and I was so mad at myself for my eating. It wasn’t a good night. I also ended up staying off track for at least a week afterward, which made the whole thing even worse. It’s definitely my destructive pattern.
Debbie: So in terms of this year, what do you think now about the thought, “I won’t have any fun on my birthday unless I eat everything I want?”
Amy: Well, I guess I’ve proven to myself that that’s just not true. When I ate that way last year, it made me not have any fun at all because I felt sick and guilty. I want this year to be different.
Debbie: So what do you think you could do to make this year different?
Amy: Well, first of all, I want to stay in control of my eating. I guess I should make a plan for what I’m going to eat, and remind myself that I’ll feel better if I follow it, even though it’s my birthday.
Debbie: I think that’s a great idea. It’s so important to remind yourself that even though it’s your birthday, it’s not worth eating out of control because doing so will still ruin your night by making you feel sick and guilty. The same things that make you feel badly on a normal day, like overeating, will still make you feel badly on your birthday. And, the same things that make you feel great on a normal day, like having a plan and staying in control, will still make you feel great on your birthday. In fact, it will probably help you to have an even better birthday night, too, and better days following your birthday.
Amy: You’re right. I want this year to be different and I want to go to bed that night feeling good about my eating, not regretting what I’ve eaten.
With this mindset in place, Amy and I began to construct her birthday eating plan. We discussed the fact that it’s perfectly reasonable for Amy to eat some extra food on her birthday, as long as she does so in a planned manner. Eating a little extra in a planned manner will enable Amy to retain a sense of control over her eating, which will mean that she’ll actually get to enjoy what she’s eating. As Amy has proven to herself in the past, the moment she starts to feel like she’s out of control is the moment she stops really enjoying what she’s eating.
Amy’s birthday plan looked like this:
Drink between 0-2 glasses of wine
One piece of bread
One serving of the main course and starch, and two servings of vegetables
Reasonable portion of two desserts (birthday cake and something else)
Amy also made the following Response Cards to read on the morning of her birthday and again right before dinner:
Armed with a plan and Response Cards, Amy told me that she felt much more confident going in to her birthday this year than she ever has in previous years. She felt determined to avoid repeating mistakes from her past and to set a new precedent on her birthday so that she can go to bed feeling happy this year and for years to come.
If you have highly tempting food in your house, it’s helpful to have a plan for exactly when you’re going to eat it. That way, it’ll be easier to resist at any one moment because you’ll be able to say to yourself, “I’m not having it right now, but that’s okay because I know I’ll get to enjoy it tomorrow.”
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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