In Session with Deborah: Tempting Treats

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.

In Session with Deborah: Birthday Plan

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.

Amy: Sure.

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.

Ask the Diet Program Coordinator: Super Bowl Cheat Sheet

Q:  The Super Bowl is this weekend and historically I have used this as an excuse to have a free-for-all eating day.  I really, really want to keep losing weight, so how I can I stop that from happening this year?

A:  The Super Bowl is ultimately about watching football, not about eating.  Sometimes dieters say to me, “I can’t watch football without eating,” and I remind them, “If you were in a situation where there was no food around, and no chance of getting food, you absolutely would watch football without eating.”  Just because you’ve linked football and food in your mind, doesn’t mean that link can’t be broken.  That being said, if you want to reach your weight loss goals, you don’t have to watch the whole game without eating, but you do have to maintain control over your eating.  Here is my Super Bowl Cheat Sheet:

1. Plan in advance how much you will eat. This will help you resist tempting food because you will know how much you’ll be having, and it will help you maintain a sense of control over your eating. Remember: feeling in control of your eating feels GREAT. Feeling out of control of your eating feels BAD. Don’t taint the Super Bowl by feeling bad about your eating.

2. Decide in advance how much alcohol (if any) you will drink. Remember: it has calories and it can lower inhibitions and lead you to eat and/or drink more.

3. Bring or prepare some healthy foods that you know you will feel good about eating.

4. Think about Super Bowls past and how you felt after they were over. Think about events in general in the past during which you overate, and how you felt when they were over. Do you want to feel that way again? Is it worth it to you to keep undoing all your hard work by overeating at certain events?

5. On the flip side, think about how you will feel going to bed Sunday night and getting on the scale Monday morning if you’ve stayed in control. How much better will you feel? How triumphant will you feel?  How good will it feel when you prove to yourself that you can stay in control?

6. Identify in advance what sabotaging thoughts you might have and come up with responses to them. Here are some possibilities:

Sabotaging Thought: It’s not fair that I can’t eat what everyone around me is eating.

Response: My body doesn’t know or care how many wings or slices of pizza everyone else around me is eating. It ONLY knows how much I’m eating, so it doesn’t matter at all what anyone else is consuming.

Sabotaging Thought: It’s not fair I can’t eat everything that I want.

Response: It’s true that I can’t eat unlimited portions of everything that I want to eat, but I can plan ahead and eat reasonable portions of some food. This way, I’ll likely get to enjoy it even more because I won’t have to feel guilty during and after I eat.

Sabotaging Thought: It’s not fair I can’t eat normally at least on this one day.

Response: Actually I AM eating normally with someone who has my same weight loss goals. If I eat like a football player, I have to expect that I will look like one.

Sabotaging Thought: It’s too hard to resist food when I’m craving it.

Response: If I were a vegetarian and all the food had meat in it, I would definitely resist.  Just because I’m having a craving for food doesn’t mean I have to eat it.  While it may be uncomfortable momentarily to resist a craving, once the craving is over I’ll be so glad I didn’t give in.

7. Make sure to make a plate of food and deliberately sit down to eat it. If you’re constantly taking small bites and going back for more food, it is extremely hard to keep track of how much you are eating. Remember: satiation is a combination of both physical and psychological satisfaction, so it’s important to really see how much you’re eating so that you can feel satisfied by it. If you grab food all day long, you’ll likely end up taking in a whole lot of calories, but not feeling all that full because you won’t be getting the same sense of psychological satisfaction.

8. Consider setting some basic rules to make eating easier, like “no chips.”  That way, every time you glace at the bowl of chips you won’t have to engage in the struggle of deciding whether or not to have any and it will be easy to resist because you’ll just know: I’m not eating chips.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Sometimes the old adage, “out of sight, out of mind,” can be extremely useful for dieters to keep in mind. Take the dieter who walks into the break room at work to get a cup of coffee and suddenly sees a box of donuts on the table. She might immediately think, “Those look so good, I really want to have one.” Let’s say the dieter resists and then goes back to her desk with her coffee. She might then spend the next few minutes or hours thinking, “I really want one of those donuts,” or “it’s not fair that I can’t have a donut,” and mentally struggling with whether or not to go back for one. The interesting thing about this (extremely common) scenario is that if the dieter had never walked into the break room and seen the donuts, she probably would never have wanted one in the first place and she definitely wouldn’t have had to think about whether or not to have one for the next few hours. In situations like this we remind dieters that they are not really being deprived of a donut because if they had not seen them, the possibility would never have existed.

Jamie had a situation similar to this over the weekend when she attended a friend’s wedding. Jamie told me she went into the wedding with the plan of having one or two glasses of wine, only raw vegetables during cocktail hour, eating about half of her entrée, and having a small piece of cake for dessert. This was her plan because she knew that the food would be rich and even taking in that amount would be more than she would normally eat. Jamie stuck to her plan during cocktail hour and dinner and then got busy dancing and talking to her friends. Jamie was having a great time and at some point someone mentioned to her that the desserts were out but were in separate room. Jamie realized at that moment that she hadn’t even remembered her plan to have a small piece of cake because she hadn’t seen the desserts and therefore hadn’t thought about it (which she found surprising as she loves wedding cake).

At that point Jamie had to decide whether or not to actually go into the dessert room to seek it out. Jamie thought about it and realized that because the wedding cake wasn’t prominently displayed, her natural association between weddings and cake broke, which proved to Jamie that part of the reason she always had wedding cake was because she saw everyone else eating it. Jamie also thought about the fact that if she did go into the dessert room, likely she would be confronted with a lot more desserts that she would be able to eat and might end up feeling deprived. Because at that moment Jamie wasn’t feeling deprived since she wasn’t looking at all the desserts she wasn’t eating, and because she was also feeling good about what she had eaten, Jamie decided to forgo the dessert room and continue having fun.

Jamie and I discussed this situation in session and how powerful “out of sight, out of mind,” can be because by not seeing the desserts, it was easy for her not to have any. Jamie anticipated my first question and told me that looking back now, she was definitely not sorry she didn’t have any cake and instead felt proud of herself for how well she did at the wedding. Jamie and I discussed what she can learn from this situation and I helped her write a new Response Card so that she could remember this experience. Jamie’s card said, “If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have wanted it anyway. Just pretend it doesn’t exist and move on – I’ll be so happy later if I do.”

Dealing with Food Pushers

Laura was bothered by a comment her sister-in-law, Rosemary, made at a family gathering two weeks ago. “Wow, you’ve really lost weight. Well, I don’t know if I can associate with you any more,” she said, with an edge in her voice. Laura knew that Rosemary was probably a little jealous, as her sister-in-law had struggled with her own weight for many years.

Laura was due to have dinner at Rosemary’s house a few days later. She was certain that Rosemary would push dessert on her, as she had many times in the past. If Laura politely declined the dessert, she predicted that Rosemary would challenge her: “Why can’t you eat like a normal person!!”  Laura had a series of unhelpful thoughts that got in the way of her coming up with a solution. She thought: “I can’t displease my sister-in-law.” “It would be terrible if I crossed her.” “I’m not entitled to stick up for myself.”

We discussed several options. Laura was tempted to eat the dessert, just to keep the peace, even though she preferred to have her favorite dessert later at home. But she recognized that she was entitled to stick up for herself and that if she didn’t, Rosemary would continue to try to control her.

Laura felt uncomfortable about being outright assertive. She wasn’t quite ready to say something such as, “Rosemary, please respect my wishes.”  She feared her sister-in-law, who regularly lashed out at people who disagreed with her, would become upset and embarrass Laura. She decided that she would say, “My doctor wants me to eat in a certain way.” Then Laura would immediately change the subject by asking Rosemary a question about her children. If Rosemary then said, “Come on, a little piece of cake won’t hurt you,” Laura was prepared to say, “No thanks. I’m afraid I have to follow doctors’ orders. But let’s talk about something else. How is your mother?”

The encounter went well. As predicted, Rosemary tried twice to get Laura to eat dessert. Laura stood her ground, though. She’s prepared to have a repeat of the experience the next couple of times she eats with Rosemary but she thinks three times will be the charm: her sister-in-law will get the message and stop pushing food on her.

Thanksgiving Plan: Rose

thanksgiving.jpgWe’ve talked before in this blog about the importance of always having a plan, but we think it bears repeating, especially with Thanksgiving just around the corner.  We were reminded of this during a session with our dieter Rose last week.  We asked Rose, who is having Thanksgiving with relatives a couple of hours away from her house, what her food plan was for that day.  She responded that she didn’t really have a formal plan but was sure she’d just stay within her normal 1,500 calorie diet that day. 

We asked Rose what would be the disadvantages of making a written plan for Thanksgiving Day (it’s important to make a plan for the whole day, not just Thanksgiving dinner).  Rose admitted that one of the downsides would be that she wouldn’t feel as free to try different foods.  We discussed with Rose the fact that she can’t have it both ways – she can’t eat whatever she wants when she wants it if she wants to lose weight and keep it off.  We asked her if she thought she’d be more likely to stay within her calorie limit if she had a written plan and Rose answered yes, it was much more likely if she had a plan.  Because Rose reaffirmed that her goal is to lose weight and keep it off, she decided she wanted to do everything she can to reach that goal – including making a Thanksgiving plan.  As part of her plan, Rose decided that for this one day she would plan to eat an extra 300 calories, which would allow her to eat a little bit of everything she wants and not feel deprived.  Rose recognized that if she didn’t plan to eat this extra 300 calories, she might not stick to her plan and could end up eating hundreds more than she had planned. 

We also asked Rose to imagine stepping on the scale the day after Thanksgiving.  If she didn’t make a plan, it is likely that she could have gone over her limit by a couple hundred calories (if not a couple of thousand).  Rose envisioned that in this scenario she would feel guilty and weak, and angry with herself for overeating.  If Rose did make a plan, she was likely to stick with it and not over eat. Then Rose saw herself stepping on the scale and feeling proud and happy – and incredibly glad that she hadn’t overeaten. 

With these powerful images in mind, and also with the resolve that she would do whatever it takes to reach her goal, Rose made a written plan for Thanksgiving Day and feels confident that now she will handle the situation with ease. 

Celebratory Splurges?

On our post about Lori’s Busy Week, one reader asked whether she would be able to celebrate special occasions like birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries with food. Here was Judith Beck’s response, advice which you’ll find in different parts of The Beck Diet Solution.

I’m so glad you asked. What I suggest is that you plan in advance how you’re going to modify your diet on occasions like your birthday. It IS important to celebrate. However, if you want to be able to keep off whatever weight you lose, you do have to accept the fact that you just can’t eat whatever you want, in any quantity you want, without planning it in advance, even if it is a special day. So perhaps you’ll want to plan to eat an extra 500 (or even more) calories that day, knowing that you may not lose as much weight that week. But that’s fine! I don’t suggest that people overly skimp on food the day before or the day after, though, because doing so can trigger overeating.

You might also want to think right now about what other days fall into the special occasion category of eating more than usual. One trap people fall into is their idea, “It’s okay to always eat more than usual if it’s a special day.” Unfortunately, they put lots and lots of days in that category, not only their birthdays and anniversaries, but birthdays and anniversaries of family members and friends, parties, eating at other people’s houses, picnics, showers, family reunions, receptions, all holidays, and receptions.

So, absolutely, splurge on your birthday but plan to do so in advance. Then eat your birthday cake guilt-free! I know it’s hard to accept the fact that you need to change your eating, and not only while you’re actively losing weight. That you just can’t forget about your diet altogether on special days. That you still need to plan and restrict yourself. But I’m just being honest. And the payoff is that you’ll be able to enjoy the advantages of weight loss EVERY DAY: looking better, feeling better, being more self-confident, being healthier, having more energy, feeling better about yourself, etc., etc., etc.

Busy Week: Lori

In the meeting yesterday, Lori talked about what a busy week she has coming up.  Lots of meals out, a business trip out of town, and on top of it, her birthday on Friday.  In the past a week like this might have completely derailed Lori’s diet, but now she is going into it with confidence.

cafe.jpgLori has several strategies that will help her handle the coming week with ease.  First she will make sure to eat a normal breakfast and lunch every day.  Some dieters try to eat very little, if anything, for breakfast and/or lunch so they can eat big meals later in the day, especially if they are eating at a restaurant.  Lori knows that this simply doesn’t work and that not eating enough in the beginning part of the day will only lead her to significantly overeat later on (discussed on Day 2 of The Beck Diet Solution). 

Second, Lori is not at all concerned about her business trip because she knows that she will make wise decisions when eating out.  Because she won’t have complete control over her food, Lori also knows that it’s possible she will feel more hungry than usual, but she also knows that this is not something to fear and she most definitely can tolerate it (Day 12).

Last, in terms of her birthday, Lori has firmly talked back to her sabotaging thoughts that in the past would lead her to have a really big blow-out meal.  She now says that, “I know I have to eat mindfully for the rest of my life, so just because it’s my birthday, that’s not an excuse to eat a huge meal and dessert.” (Day 19).  Of course, like everyone else, Lori doesn’t necessarily like that she can’t eat with abandon on her birthday, but she’s accepted it and moved on because for her, being thin is so much more worth it. 

Standing Firm: Maria

It was Maria’s daughter’s birthday last week, so over the weekend Maria threw a sleepover party for her and her friends.  Maria knew that there would be a lot of tempting food around all evening and night and so she sat down ahead of time and planned out what and how much she would eat (discussed on Day 16 of The Beck Diet Solution).  Maria decided that the best way to approach this situation was to make sure she had lower calorie versions of the regular party food.  For herself she bought fat free hotdogs to eat instead of regular ones, a snack size bag of microwave popcorn instead of a buttery full-size bag, and 100-calorie packs of the same kind of cookies. 

For the most part everything went according to plan during the party.  Maria was able to enjoy her scaled-down version of the party food and didn’t feel deprived because she had prepared for the situation so well (Day 30).  However, there was one snag when Maria came face to face with a big bowl of gummy bears – a food she hadn’t anticipated wanting at all.  She suddenly developed a strong craving to eat them, and all at once the struggle started in her mind.  “It went back and forth,” Maria said, “like an angel and a devil on each shoulder.”  She had thoughts like, “It’s ok to eat the [unplanned] gummy bears because it’s a celebration; I really want it; it will just be one.”  She countered those sabotaging thoughts by telling herself, “It’s not ok to eat unplanned food.  Every time I eat something I’m not supposed to, it reinforces that bad habit.  Every time I resist unplanned food, it reinforces the good habit and increases the chance I will resist in the future.”  (Day 13). 

After a long struggle, Maria finally made the firm decision that she was absolutely not going to eat any gummy bears.  She went immediately to her refrigerator where she had posted her Advantages List (Day 1) and read it to remind herself of just why it was so important to her not to eat unplanned food.  As soon as the decision not to eat was made, Maria said that her craving immediately began to diminish and the urge to eat gummy bears eventually subsided.  This was an incredibly important experience for Maria because it showed her that cravings eventually pass and she doesn’t need to eat to get rid of them, and that she is strong and can be confident in the future of her ability to withstand uncomfortable cravings.

More Birthdays!

birthdayballoons.jpgThree of our dieters – Roxanne, Charlotte, and Diana – had birthdays in the past 2 weeks, and they reported that this birthday was very different from previous ones.  In the past all of our dieters have noted that they used their birthdays (and usually their friends and family’s birthdays, too!) as an excuse to overeat, telling themselves, “It’s ok to eat this because it’s a special occasion; I’m celebrating” (discussed on Day 19 of The Beck Diet Solution).  This year, however, things were very different. 

One of Roxanne’s friends thoughtfully baked her a cake, but knowing that Roxanne is trying to lose weight, she made a light angel food cake, using Splenda instead of sugar.  Roxanne was touched by the gesture, but because she hadn’t planned to eat cake that day, she didn’t allow herself to use her birthday as an excuse to eat unplanned food.  She took the cake home and enjoyed a piece the next day when she was able to work it into her plan.  In spite of her birthday, Roxanne lost a pound this week.

 Charlotte, a professor, had a similar experience.  One of her students baked a cake and brought it in for her department to enjoy.  Knowing that Charlotte was on a diet, the student made the cake healthier using applesauce instead of oil and left a section of it without icing.  Because of this, Charlotte was able to take part in the birthday celebration and still lose weight this week.

Diana, too, had a lot of people who wanted to commemorate her birthday.  However, she told everyone that she didn’t need a cake because she didn’t want to deal with having it around.  But this doesn’t mean that her friends weren’t able to find other ways to celebrate her birthday.  When she got home from work she found out that her coworkers had sent her a big bouquet of flowers – made out of fruit.

Our dieters this week handled their birthdays with ease and confidence.  We’re so proud of them!