Today I had a session with my client, Melissa. For the past few months, Melissa has been working on not having dessert before dinner. This is a necessary skill for Melissa to implement because, like a lot of dieters, Melissa encounters dessert all day long.
Especially during stressful times, unexpected food is an inevitable obstacle. These guidelines will provide structure and advice for making smart eating decisions for any unexpected food in your house.
Creating a plan allows you to eat a reasonable amount, enjoyed the food you eat, and feel proud of yourself for making healthy decisions. Learn what Kate could have done before attending a potluck dinner to make a helpful plan for her eating.
One of the biggest challenges that makes staying on track with healthy eating difficult during the holidays is what dieters find when they walk into their office kitchens. The fact of the matter is, it often seems like there is extra (tempting) food everywhere during the holidays, but the office kitchen is definitely one of the biggest culprits. We’re not going to sugar-coat this (no pun intended): managing the office kitchen during the holidays is difficult but it absolutely can be done with three key elements:
- A really good plan
- Strategies to put that plan into action
- Extra determination
The first part of managing the office kitchen is having a plan. For most dieters, it almost never works to just “wing it” (meaning, go into a situation without a firm plan and with the thought that they’ll just figure it out when the time comes) but this is especially true during the holidays. When there are so many extra temptations around, having a clear plan is critical. When making a plan for treats at the office, it’s important that your plan is both reasonable and realistic. If your plan is too restrictive or unreasonable, then ultimately you won’t be able to follow it anyway and will likely end up throwing it out the window and eating way more than you would have, had you made a more reasonable plan that you were able to stick with.
Some of our clients have plans such as: one reasonable treat a day from the office kitchen; one treat every Friday; one treat every other day; etc. A plan that we, ourselves, use and that many of our clients have since adopted is this: no treats from the office kitchen ever (unless it’s an office party). If there’s something in there we really want, we take a portion home and have it after dinner. This plan works so beautifully for us. It makes it so much easier to resist treats at work because we’re able to remind ourselves, “It’s not that I’m not having this food, I’m just not having it right now. But I absolutely can have it later, and when I do, I’ll be able to really enjoy it fully without guilt.” It also works well because we only bring home one portion at a time so even if we really want more when we’ve finished, there’s no more to be had!
Once you have your plan, you then need strategies to help you stick to it. One extremely helpful strategy is to make Response Cards for any sabotaging thoughts you think you’re likely to have about sticking to your plan. Here are some sample sabotaging thoughts and Response Cards.
Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay just this one time to not stick to my office holiday treats plan.
Sabotaging Thought: I’m going to eat this unplanned treat because I just don’t care.
Sabotaging Thought: It’s too hard to stick to my plan.
Sabotaging Thought: It’s okay to eat [this unplanned treat] because everyone else is.
Just making Response Cards and looking at them every once in a while is probably not good enough during the holidays. Once you have your cards, it’s important to start reading them every day, at least once a day, as a matter of course. Doing so will start cementing these helpful thoughts in your head. In addition to reading them once a day, consider reading them again during difficult moments at work. If, for example, you know that 4:00 is a vulnerable time for you, set an alarm on your phone and read your cards again every day at 3:45. Or if you know going into the office kitchen to get your lunch puts you in direct contact with tempting treats, read your cards right before venturing into the kitchen.
Another strategy that can be helpful in dealing with office treat cravings is to have distractions at the ready. Remember that cravings really are like itches in that the more you pay attention to them, the worse they get. The moment you get really distracted is the moment the craving goes away. Having a list of distracting activities to try when a craving strikes can help you even more quickly turn your attention to something else. Some potential distractions are: take a walk, go talk to a co-worker, call a friend or family member, write an email to someone, check news or sports headlines, look at social media, do a crossword puzzle or Sudoku puzzle, read your Response Cards, read a blog post, online shop, and so on.
You may also want to pay attention to how long your cravings actually last. Most of the dieters we work with tell us that their cravings usually last somewhere between three to fifteen minutes. Even if your craving lasts a full fifteen minutes, it will eventually go away. Seeing how long they last can help you remind yourself that the discomfort is temporary, and that you’re only x minutes away from success.
We know that office treats are tough to handle, but the more you work on it, the better you will get. Make a plan, make Response Cards, and have distractions ready. Then you’ll be ready to do battle and win!
Everyone knows that it’s harder to stay on track with healthy eating during the holidays, and most people assume that it’s because there are so many more parties, eating events, and treats out during this time. While that’s accurate, it’s only part of the picture. The truth is that what really makes the holidays so hard are the sabotaging thoughts that people have that they aren’t able to respond effectively to. It’s never a party that directly gets someone off track, it’s when she has sabotaging thoughts while at the party, like, “I won’t be able to have fun unless I indulge.” Learning to identify, in advance, what sabotaging thoughts you’re likely to have and coming up with responses to them ahead of time is the missing link between wanting to stay on track during the holidays and actually being able to do so. Below are four of the most common diet sabotaging thoughts that we hear and some helpful responses to them. If you find any of these responses helpful, consider making your own Response Cards and reading them every single day from today until January 1st.
1. I only get this food once a year.
When dieters are telling us about a holiday meal that didn’t go as well as they’d have liked, part of the problem tends to be that they overate food and justified it with the thought that they “never get this food” or “it’s the only time of year I can eat it.” The truth of the matter is that in this day in age, there is almost no food that can’t be bought, ordered, or made 365 days a year. While it’s true individuals many never think to make a certain food at other times during the year, or only come in contact with it organically during the holidays, that doesn’t mean that they can’t find/make/buy it at other times. Also, it’s good to keep in mind that it’s true the holidays are only once a year, but they’re once a year every year, so it’s never the last opportunity to have something. While it is certainly fair to eat reasonable portion of favorite holiday foods, it doesn’t work to go overboard on those foods. Reminding yourself that you never need to overeat a food because you can and will have it again can help you stay on track around favorite holiday foods.
2. I have to do things the way I’ve always done them or someone will be disappointed.
Dieters often put themselves in traps when thinking about the holidays. They think that they have to do things the way they’ve always done them or there will be negative consequences, such as disappointing someone or themselves. The truth of the matter is that they way they’ve always done things probably just doesn’t work, not if they’re trying to stay on track with their eating during the holidays. If dieters want this year to go better, it means they have to do things differently. While it’s true that others may be temporarily disappointed if you, say, decide to only make three kinds of Christmas cookies instead of ten, or go out and buy some holiday food to save yourself the time and energy of making it, it’s likely that the disappointment won’t be as great or as long-lasting as you’re fearing. And they’ll get over it, probably in much less time then it will take you to lose the extra pounds you put on as a result of not making changes. It’s important to keep in mind that traditions can always be changed and new ones can always be instituted. If you start the tradition this year of taking a walk after Thanksgiving dinner instead of picking at leftovers, in few years that will start to feel like a time-honored tradition – and one that will help you reach your goals instead of taking your farther away from them.
3. I’ve already been messing up, I’ve blown it so I’ll just wait until the New Year to get back on track.
This is a thought that often plagues dieters who start out trying to have a healthy holiday season, get off track at some point, and just decide that their efforts are wasted and they might as well wait until January 1st to start working on healthy eating again. We are here to tell you: Don’t buy into that thought! And here’s why: First of all, it is impossible to blow it for the holiday season. It just doesn’t work that way. It is possible to get off track at one party, and then get off track at the next, and then get off track again at the third. But it’s also possible to get off track at one party, recover, and do fantastically well during the rest of the parties. There is always, always the option of recovering and making the rest of the days until January 1 great days. And in doing so, it means that you don’t gain weight (or gain less weight), start out the New Year in a much stronger position, and likely have a happier holiday season. Remind yourself – just because you were on the highway and missed your exit, it doesn’t mean you have to spend the rest of the day driving in the wrong direction. You can always get off at the next exit, turn around, and get right back on track. The same is true with dieting. Just because you make a mistake, you can always catch yourself, recover, and get right back on track. In the same way you wouldn’t’ keep driving in the wrong direction, don’t keep making mistakes!
4. I won’t be able to enjoy myself during the holidays if I have to work on healthy eating.
In reality, the opposite of this thought is usually true. When dieters decide to throw healthy eating out the window and get off track, it actually puts a negative tint on the holidays because they spend time feeling badly about their eating, worrying about gaining weight, and dealing with the nagging knowledge that they’re going to have to face up to all this in the New Year. By contrast, when dieters work on staying on track, it often helps them feel so much better during the holidays because they feel confident in themselves and what they’re doing. No one (at least no one we’ve ever met!) has ever gone to bed after a really great, on-track eating day and thought, “Well, I shouldn’t have done that.” It just doesn’t happen!
My dieter, Karen, is a well-loved teacher, whose students frequently bring in treats and baked goods for her. Karen is always very appreciative of these gestures and often brings the treats home for her husband to enjoy, too. In session last week, Karen told me that she recently realized that her husband rarely ate the treats she brought home and that, in moments of weakness, she often ended up eating a lot of them, even when she didn’t really want them. Karen had never had much of a sweet tooth, and it wasn’t often that sweets or baked goods would call her name. However, since she often had a steady stream of them, supplied by her students and their appreciative parents, Karen found herself eating more and more of them both because she didn’t want to seem ungrateful and because they were “there.” Karen told me that it seemed very rude to not eat what her students and their parents had so generously given her.
Karen and I discussed this situation in session and we realized one thing: Karen could not continue to eat all of the treats her students gave her and lose and maintain a healthy weight. Karen once again stressed that it wasn’t even that she particularly wanted to eat the treats, but it seemed very ungrateful to her not to. I asked Karen how she felt whenever a student brought in a treat, and she said that it always made her feel very good and appreciated. I then asked Karen why she thought her students’ parents sent in treats for her, and Karen replied that they probably did so to show their appreciation to Karen and to let her know that they valued the work she was doing with their children.
I pointed out to Karen the simple logic of what she had just stated: her students brought in baked goods and treats for her to show their appreciation and gratitude for her work, and Karen felt very appreciated and happy when she received these things – without ever putting a bite of food in her mouth. Karen and I discussed the fact that even if she didn’t eat what her students brought in, this doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel grateful for the gesture and what it symbolizes. She experiences the purpose of the gesture whether or not she eats anything.
Karen was able to take to heart the logic of this idea and realized that if she continued to eat all of the treats that her students brought in (even when she didn’t want to), it would actually negate the point of them in the first place because it would cause her to feel badly about herself and her eating.
The moral of the story: if someone gives you a gift of food, you never need to actually eat the gift to accept the person’s gratitude and for the gesture to have meaning. What happens after you accept the gift in no way takes away from the meaning behind it.
Dr. Beck will appear on the Dr. Oz show tomorrow, Thursday, February 18th, advising a family whose health will likely become compromised if they don’t change the way they eat. Dr. Oz shows a video of their family meal, illustrating an overabundance of food and the way in which family members are urged to eat more.
See Dr. Beck’s blog, Advising Food Pushers on TV, from January 28, 2010 for more details.
For local times and listings visit www.Doctoroz.com.
Yesterday I went to New York to tape a segment for the Dr. Oz Show. He interviewed a family who likes to eat—a lot. The mother had not realized the extent to which she is a food pusher, constantly urging her children and husband to eat more and more. She also had not realized the potential health consequences of her family being overweight and potentially obese.
I made several points to the mother:
- She had learned as a child from her own family to push food, and now her kids are learning how to be food pushers from her—and she needs to break the cycle now.
- Food does not equal love, and especially, extra food certainly doesn’t equal love. Helping your kids become as healthy as they can, listening to them, talking with them, hanging out with them, having fun with them—these are ways to express love.
- When she feels as if she’s depriving her kids of extra food, she should redefine her idea of deprivation. Either she’ll deprive her kids of some food, some time—or she’ll deprive them of optimum health. She needs to pick which goal is more important to her. Either they can eat whatever they want, in whatever quantity they want, whenever they want—or they can be thinner and healthier. They can’t have it both ways.
- When she herself feels as if others are pushing food on her, she needs to become a broken record, saying, “No, thank you,” “No, thank you” “No, thank you.” If she worries about hurting the food pusher’s feelings, she needs to remember that the food pusher will probably be mildly disappointed (in fact, quite little compared to other disappointments in his or her life) and that the disappointment is likely to be fleeting. She needs to feel entitled to stick up for her health and the health of her family.
I hope my brief contact with this wonderful family will have some impact!
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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