The Off-Track Mentality

This morning I had a session with my client, Lauren. Lauren is going through a lot right now: her daughter is ill, her mother had a bad fall, and her husband recently lost his job. In recent weeks, Lauren has sometimes been completely on track and feeling so good about being in control of her eating, but some weeks things have been harder, and she’s struggled more.

This week, Lauren told me that she has felt very off track the last few days. She said that controlling her eating has just felt really hard, and she’s not sure it’s worth it. I discussed with Lauren something I know to be true for myself and virtually all my dieters: that the “Is it worth it?” question is just a product of the off-track mentality. I reminded Lauren that when she’s feeling very on track, feeling very much in control, and feeling like she’s making choices that are good for her, she never questions whether or not it’s worth it because it just so obviously is. It’s only when she’s off track and struggling that she starts to question whether she should put forth the effort to stay on track.

Lauren thought about it. When she reflected on the last few months, she was able to remember times when she was on track and feeling good about it (memories that she temporarily lost access to amid her off-track mentality) and she had never questioned whether it was worth it.

Next, Lauren made a Response Card:

Questioning whether it’s worth it is just a product of an off-track mentality. When I’m on track and feeling in control, I know 100% that it’s worth it. Don’t think about whether it’s worth it. Just know that it is and instead focus on doing what I need to do TODAY.

woman practicing mindfulness

Lauren then told me that the place she seems to be struggling the most is around her 3 p.m. snack time. She  said that when it gets to be that time, she’s usually already dealt with hard things that day. She’s feeling frazzled and stressed—and then she just starts eating and has a very hard time stopping. To help this problem, Lauren and I decided that first, she wasn’t going to have her snack until 3:15. From 3:00-3:15 she would engage in either deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, and/or stretching or yoga. In other words, instead of using food to help her calm down from the day, she would use another method. Then, she would portion out what she was having for her snack and sit down to eat it (instead of sitting down with a whole box of crackers).

Once she finished her snack, she would read the following Response Card:

I’ve had enough food, so if I want to eat more, it’s not because I’m hungry, it’s because my body is telling me I need more stress-relief/relaxation/soothing. I can achieve this without food, and when I do, I feel so proud and in control.

With these strategies in place, Lauren felt both more willing and more able to commit herself to getting back on track and getting back to feeling good.

8 replies
  1. Susan Brennecke
    Susan Brennecke says:

    Great suggestions!! I ALWAYS have a healthy breakfast and end the day with a healthy dinner, but it’s from lunch on that had been so hard to control. I think your response cards could be the answer!! Thanks.

  2. Dr. BW
    Dr. BW says:

    Interesting post. I believe I follow the argument here, but also think it captures just part of the picture, in that we have to be careful to not dismiss the fact that people’s experiences and priorities are diverse, which is okay, and also that our individual priorities (i.e. what’s “worth it” at the moment) can shift over time and by circumstances. People enjoying more secure and stable socioeconomic circumstances, for instance, or who are particularly concerned about their health or physical appearance, may find it easier and more important to prioritize dieting behavior than those who are dealing with other chronic or acute stressors, and it arguably can be rational to flexibly allow ones priorities to shift based on one’s circumstances over time, and to not be too rigid in adhering to prior goals as new information becomes available. I’m not advocating that one go to the opposite extreme. The Beck Diet Program has presumably helped many people, and adherence to the program is presumably “worth it” much if not all of the time to its developers and probably many followers. But that doesn’t make it an inherent priority to everyone, and assuming and suggesting that it should be might be a somewhat egocentric automatic thought worth exploring, just as much as it is worth remembering and considering why one prioritized dietary monitoring and compliance in the first place. I appreciate my comments here are somewhat critical of the views expressed in this blog, and I hope whoever moderates it will allow my reflections to be shared and discussed. I don’t think the views in the blog are wrong per se, but that their premises are worth exploring. As part of that broader picture, I also wish to commend the Becks for their truly remarkable body of contributions to the field, and for helping so many of us achieve our personal goals.

    • Dee
      Dee says:

      You make a good point. I have a 9-year-old daughter with a chronic, rare disease. This causes a good deal of stress, and can trigger binge eating for me. While it would be understandable to not make the disordered eating a priority (“I already have so much to deal with, I deserve to eat”), the disordered eating behavior, after a few fleeting moments of comfort, ends up causing me much more pain and suffering. So the fact they are trying to help people with tools and techniques to manage out-of-control eating is even more important for people with additional burdens to bear. It doesn’t mean they will always succeed, and it doesn’t mean they should beat themselves up, but we are the people who can least afford the consequences of disordered eating (shame, more stress, more suffering).

    • Amrita
      Amrita says:

      I definitely agree with this perspective. I’m an extreme stress eater and was pointed to this book / blog coz I’d asked for help on another blog. For me this worth it question doesn’t justify my behaviour as much the alternative premise that I need to prioritise surviving this moment … Thankyou this has helped me verbalise what has been happening and why.

  3. Caroline Wick
    Caroline Wick says:

    This post is really timely for me. 3pmish is the time I find it most difficult to control my eating and it is definitely because I am looking for stress relief. I think it’s a great idea to use stress relieving techniques first before eating my snack. I shall try this this week. Thanks for your blog.

  4. T L H
    T L H says:

    Having to face medical issues with my hubby and my self in the next 6 weeks has truly been stressing me out .. I appreciate my Beck reading and this form …

  5. Sita
    Sita says:

    Leslie’s book “The Beck Diet Solution” answers the point raised by Dr. BW: if a person isn’t ready to make the changes required to lose weight, then she doesn’t need to do so. It requires considerable effort, and for a person going through tough times, it may be too much to handle. That’s okay! Dr. Beck has one interview with a person in the book. The person says “I can’t do it”. So Dr. Beck says “Okay, don’t do it. If you aren’t ready to lose weight, then don’t try to. It’s okay.” Then the person says “But I want to!”, so Dr. Beck says, “if it is really important to you, then do it”. There is an awful tension some of us feel, when we want to lose weight, but can’t commit to the changes required. It’s a mental conflict and it is painful. So if it is too hard, don’t strive for it, but also DON”T beat yourself up over it. Just let go. We have the right to do that. Dr. Beck is all about self love. When things get better, consider trying then.


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