‘The Beck Diet Solution’
How Thin People Think, By JUDITH BECK, PH.D.
Have you ever wondered why you can’t lose weight or keep off the weight you’ve lost? You certainly know many people who don’t struggle with eating the way you do. Are you different? You probably are, but not necessarily for the reasons you think. Consider the following questions:
- Do you sometimes eat even when you’re not really hungry? In other words, can you easily tell the difference between being hungry and just wanting to eat?
- Are you sometimes concerned that you might not have an opportunity to eat? Do you ever have such thoughts as, What if I get hungry later?
- Do you sometimes eat past the point of mild fullness?
- Do you fool yourself about your eating? In other words, do you sometimes tell yourself that it “won’t matter” if you eat a small piece of something you’re not supposed to eat?
- Do you comfort yourself with food?
- If the scale goes up, do you sometimes abandon your diet altogether?
- Do you sometimes eat because it doesn’t feel fair that you can’t eat just like everyone else?
- Do you stop dieting as soon as you’ve lost weight?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you possess characteristics that can make dieting difficult.
Learn to Think Thin
You Confuse Hunger with the Desire to Eat
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 but they have a desire to eat. Thin people say to themselves, I know I’d like to eat [that food] … But I just ate a little while ago … I’m not going to have it. You, on the other hand, may label any desire to eat as hunger. You probably get the idea that you ought to eat whenever your stomach feels empty and you feel an urge to eat.
To think like a thin person, you must learn to tell the difference between hunger and the desire to eat so that you can make better decisions about when it’s appropriate to eat and when it’s not. You’ll do so by paying attention to how your stomach feels before and after meals. You’ll also do such experiments as purposefully making yourself hungry so that you learn to recognize what true hunger feels like.
You Have a Low Tolerance for Hunger and Cravings
Most thin people feel hungry and occasionally notice cravings, but they don’t dwell on these feelings. Generally, they don’t think that much about food at all. They figure they’ll always be able to find something when they’re hungry or be able to withstand the hunger if it’s not convenient to eat. Usually, they have no problem holding off until their next snack or meal.
When you’re hungry or have a craving, though, you might dwell on these feelings. You probably worry about when you’re going to have an opportunity to eat again. Maybe you even become preoccupied with thoughts of food. You’re likely to overestimate how strong your hunger and cravings will get and how long they’ll last. It’s likely you’ll try to get rid of them right away by eating. In fact, some people who struggle to lose weight experience hunger and cravings as emergencies: I must eat now!
In this program, you’ll discover for yourself that hunger and cravings are not emergencies, and you’ll learn how to tolerate them. As you’re reading this, perhaps you’re thinking, I know I don’t have to eat when I’m hungry or having a craving … I want to eat. You’ve probably read about hunger strikes, so you know people can go for days without eating. If you’ve ever fasted for a religious observance or a medical procedure, you know firsthand that hunger waxes and wanes.
Yet at the moment you feel hungry or experience a craving, you might not be thinking rationally. You might feel that you have to do something about it immediately to satisfy your urge to eat. Perhaps this inaccurate thinking stems, in part, from our hunter-and-gatherer ancestors, who survived only if they developed the ability to focus their attention intently on eating when food was around so that they could gain weight to survive leaner times when food was scarce. Today, food is plentiful all the time, but our modern brains have not yet caught up to this modern reality.
I’m going to teach you how to effectively respond to the voice in your head that tries to convince you, I have to eat right now! You’ll learn many techniques to refocus your attention so that hunger and craving lose their persuasive power. You’ll learn to tell yourself, I’m just feeling hungry, or I’m just having a craving … I don’t have to pay attention to it … I can shift my focus to something else … I don’t have to eat impulsively to get rid of this feeling … In a few minutes, I’m going to be really glad that I didn’t eat.
You Like the Feeling of Being Full
Thin people usually like to eat to the point where they’re reasonably full.
It doesn’t feel right if they’ve eaten so much they feel a little uncomfortable taking a brisk walk after a meal. Even if there is delicious food left, they don’t want to keep eating. They feel no compulsion to empty their plates.
You, however, might feel uncomfortable if you stop eating at that same point. There are three possible reasons you feel this way:
- One, you may be concerned that you’ll get hungry again before the next meal.
- Two, you may feel deprived if you don’t eat as much as you want.
- Three, you may have grown accustomed to eating much greater quantities than is healthy. Indeed, you may label the degree of fullness you feel after an overly large meal as “normal” when you’ve actually eaten to the point of overfullness.
I noticed this phenomenon recently when I had dinner at the house of a colleague. There were 10 of us in all. Although I’m usually oblivious to what people eat, on this particular night I decided to pay attention. This is what I observed: Two of us (both women) ate sparingly. Three of the men (all of normal weight) ate more than we did, but not a great deal more. The other five (all of whom are overweight) ate much more than the rest of us.
We light eaters skipped the hors d’oeuvres and several of the side dishes altogether and ate some of the entrée, vegetables, and rice. The moderate eaters had some hors d’oeuvres and finished most of what was on their plates. The big eaters ate lots of hors d’oeuvres and side dishes and finished just about everything on their plates. They couldn’t possibly have still been hungry, yet all of them had seconds. They also ate much larger portions of dessert.
Why did they eat well beyond the point of fullness? Probably because they all had such thoughts as:
- This tastes so good. I don’t want to stop.
- It’s a special occasion, so it’s okay to splurge.
- I want to show my hostess that I appreciate her efforts.
- I can’t resist such wonderful food.
They probably also overate because they wanted to feel overly full at the end of the meal.
This program teaches you how to change your mindset so that you actually feel good about feeling reasonably full at the end of meals. It takes practice, but you’ll get to the point where instead of feeling deprived when you get up from the table, you’ll automatically say, I’m so glad I didn’t overeat.
You Fool Yourself About How Much You Eat
Thin people generally have a pretty good gauge of how much they eat. They don’t overeat very often, and when they do, they naturally eat less at their next meal or two to compensate for it.
People who struggle with dieting, however, often delude themselves about how much they eat. In fact, at times you might deliberately try not to notice what you’re eating because you know you would feel bad if you really paid attention. For example, you might eat a pint of ice cream standing at the freezer or finish an entire bag of chips while watching TV. It’s as if part of you believes, If I’m not fully conscious of what I’m doing, it’s okay to keep eating.
You might tell yourself that what you’re eating doesn’t really matter — that is, the calories don’t count if you’re only eating the crumbs in the bottom of a bag of cookies, the icing that’s left on the cake cutter, or a broken piece of pretzel. Maybe you justify eating too much because you’re eating out, celebrating, or vacationing. Or you might make the excuse that you should eat something because it’s free or someone is urging you to eat.
You can also fool yourself in other ways. You might use eating something that you shouldn’t have as an excuse to eat even more. Perhaps you’ve said to yourself, Since I strayed from this diet, I may as well blow the whole day. So you eat and eat, promising yourself you’ll start again tomorrow.
As you read this, you can probably see how this kind of thinking doesn’t make good sense. Yet, in the moment, your sabotaging thoughts override your rational mind. Recognizing and responding in a helpful way to these sabotaging thoughts is a key component of this program. You’ll be practicing this skill daily.
You Comfort Yourself with Food
When thin people are emotionally upset, they don’t turn to food for distraction or solace. It just doesn’t cross their minds. If anything, they tend to lose their desire to eat.
On the other hand, when you’re distressed or bored, you might immediately want to grab food. Eating can distract you from your negative feelings and soothe you. In fact, there are certain foods — chocolate, for example — that contain substances that release “feel good” chemicals in your brain.
The problem, of course, is that you feel better only momentarily. What happens as soon as you’re finished eating? You still have to deal with the problem that made you upset. And, on top of that, you feel bad that you strayed from your diet. You become self-critical, undermine your confidence, and feel even worse than you did at the start.
Instead of trying to comfort yourself with food, the Beck Diet Solution teaches you to calm down in other ways: by using distraction and relaxation techniques, by countering your sabotaging thoughts, and by solving the problems that were associated with your negative emotions in the first place.
You Feel Helpless and Hopeless When You Gain Weight
When thin people gain weight, they don’t usually see it as a catastrophe. They figure that they’ll simply watch what they eat for the next few days or increase their exercise. They have confidence that the scale will go back down.
You’re probably different, though. What goes through your mind when you see on the scale a higher number than you’d expected? You probably have such thoughts as, I can’t believe it! This is terrible! I’ll never lose weight!
Thin people have faith in their ability to make good decisions about what, when, and how much they’re going to eat — and to follow through with these decisions. Even when they eat more than usual, such as at a party, they’re confident that they’ll return to a more controlled way of eating afterwards.
You, however, may have constant sabotaging and demoralizing thoughts that undermine your confidence. When you overeat, you might believe that you’ll never be able to control your eating.
This program teaches you many techniques to prevent overeating. But, equally important, it also teaches you how to learn from your eating mistakes and to recommit yourself to your diet right away. When you do so, your confidence grows. You’ll know that you can immediately recover from slips and control your eating and weight.
You Focus on Issues of Unfairness
Are you surprised to learn that most thin people restrict their eating to some degree? They might be trying to maintain their weight or to stay healthy — or both. So they sometimes eat smaller portions than they would really like and choose healthy foods when they’d really prefer to eat something else. They accept these limitations without too much struggle. They just don’t think about it very much.
You, however, might frequently reflect on how unfair it is that others can eat what they want but you can’t. Truth is, not only do you under- estimate how much others restrict themselves, but also you overly focus on the injustice you feel because you have to limit yourself. In the past, this kind of thinking may have led you to stray from your diet, or you may have given up your diet entirely.
So many of the dieters I’ve worked with were preoccupied with the unfairness of dieting that I decided to do an experiment, which turned out to be a lot of fun. I asked numerous people who don’t struggle with dieting (they ranged from very thin to “normal” weight) if they would change their eating habits if all foods contained exactly the same number of calories and were equally nutritious. Many of them, especially men over age 40 and most women (of any age), told me that, yes, they would eat differently. Either they would eat certain foods more frequently or they would regularly eat larger quantities of food. In other words, they usually do restrict their eating.
I also came to the conclusion that there are two types of thin people: Those who don’t have to work at staying thin and those who do. For the most part, those who don’t have to work at it have small appetites, don’t eat unless they’re hungry, and get sufficient exercise. The rest fall into the second category: They have to work at it. Most thin people, especially women, stay thin by being incredibly careful about what they eat. They might tell you that they don’t work at it, but mostly they do. This doesn’t mean they’re lying; they’re just so used to eating the way they do, they consider it the norm. To them, eating small portions and lower -calorie foods is a way of life. They decide that fattening foods are either entirely out of bounds, or, more likely, they indulge in them only occasionally.
It’s natural to look at some people and compare what they’re eating to what you’re eating — but it’s not helpful. With the Beck Diet Solution program, you’ll learn how to accept the restrictions you have to impose on yourself to reap the rewards of losing weight.
You Stop Dieting Once You Lose Weight
There is a significant difference between people who have lost weight and kept it off for many years and people who constantly yo-yo diet (losing weight, regaining it, losing it, and regaining it). People who end up maintaining their new weight do so because they’ve changed what they do and how they think about food and eating. If you think that you’ll be able to return to your old ways of eating after you lose weight, you’ll gain the excess weight back.
In order to lose weight this time, you’ll learn crucial Cognitive Therapy techniques that you’ll use for the rest of your life. They include planning what you eat, choosing healthy foods, resisting cravings, soothing yourself without turning to food, using good eating habits, and exercising, to name but a few. You’ll also learn essential skills to counter sabotaging thoughts that would otherwise lead to overeating, demoralization, and giving up. And you’ll learn how to motivate yourself to use your skills in the future.
The good news is that once you learn these skills, dieting becomes much easier. And so does maintaining your weight loss. The dieters I counsel tell me this all the time. It doesn’t require as much effort to maintain your weight as it does to lose it — if you learn the skills you need along the way.