Do you ever find yourself thinking, “I know I shouldn't eat this, but I don't care?” Or maybe, “I've had such a bad day, I deserve to eat this." Or, “I've eaten something I shouldn't. I may as well blow my diet for the rest of the day."
For many people the reason diets don't succeed is that they don't know how to diet, or to lose weight permanently. The good news is that by applying the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to any healthy, well-balanced diet of your choosing, you can learn how to continually follow a diet, avoid cheating, resist tempting food and cope with hunger, cravings, stress and negative emotions. You'll do all this by changing the way you think.
CBT works by teaching people how to solve problems — and dieters have lots of practical problems to solve. First, you must learn the behaviors that you need, such as eating slowly and sitting down and enjoying every bite, and keeping to a certain number of snacks and meals a day. Then you must change your thinking so that you can make these changes in your behavior permanent.
The truth is that any reasonable diet will work for you if you have the right mindset.
Based on The Beck Diet Solution, a book by Judith Beck, here are some skills you should know to help you lose weight:
1. Respond to Sabotaging Thoughts
You may not be conscious of it, but you always have a thought before you eat. If you see an open box of cookies in your cupboard, you don't automatically reach for one. You have a thought first, which may be something like, “I really want to eat that ... It won't matter if I take just one”. If you don't respond to that thought, you'll go ahead and eat the cookie. If, however, you think, “I really want to eat that, but I shouldn't because it's not on my diet ... I have to get better at sticking to it,” then you won't. When you feel tempted to eat something you're not supposed to, just stop and say, “What's going through my mind?”
Sabotaging thoughts are thoughts that allow you to eat food that you hadn't planned to eat, so it's critical to recognize the ones that give you permission to eat and prepare responses. If you can learn to identify the triggers (someone offers you a piece of cake) that evoke the sabotaging thoughts, you can minimize your exposure to them or change your response to them.
2. Differentiate Between Hungry and Not Hungry
Naturally thin people are more easily able to differentiate between when they're truly hungry because their stomachs are empty, and when their stomachs aren't empty and they have a desire to eat. Thin people say, “I'd like that food, but I just ate a while ago, I'm not going to have it”. To think like a thin person, you must learn to tell the difference between hunger and the desire to eat. Practice “hunger tolerance” — go a few hours without eating (on one day skip lunch and wait until dinner to eat) to experience the physical sensations of hunger. As a general rule, if the feeling is in your stomach, you're probably hungry, if it's not, it's just a desire to eat.
3. Don't Focus on Unfairness
Most thin people restrict their eating to some degree. They might be trying to maintain their weight, or eat healthily, or both. They accept limitations without too much struggle. Dieters, however, focus on how unfair it is that others can eat what they want and start to feel very deprived. I recommend two things: one is to start comparing yourself with successful dieters because they are certainly eating with limits. People limit their food intake all the time, subconsciously maybe, but that's what they do. And the other thing to do about this feeling of unfairness and deprivation is to remind yourself, “Either I'm going to be deprived of this food right now or I'm going to be deprived of getting thinner ... I'm going to be deprived one way or the other so I've got to decide what deprivation I want.”
4. Write It Down
Almost everybody has had the experience of losing at least some weight but most people have not had the experience of keeping it off. That's because you can make short-term changes in your behavior but, unless you make changes in your thinking, you probably won't sustain the behavioral change. One way to change your thinking is to practice new ideas over and over again. Counter your sabotaging thoughts on index cards.
5. Build Up Your Resistance Muscle
One really common sabotaging thought is, “It's only a few crumbs, it won't matter if I eat this." And the truth of the matter is that it does matter. It's not just about the calories. It makes a difference every single time you give in to a desire to eat when you haven't planned to, because then it makes it more likely that next time you'll give in. And the time after that you'll give in. Conversely, every time you resist, it makes it more likely that the next time you'll resist and the time after that. If you want to lose weight and keep it off permanently, you need to take every opportunity to strengthen your resistance muscle and to weaken your giving-in muscle.