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Diet tips: How to train your brain to think thin

Dr. Judith S. Beck shares smart advice on how to lose weight and eat right in her book, "The Beck Diet Solution." Read an excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY

In "The Beck Diet Solution: Train Your Brain to Think Like a Thin Person," Dr. Judith S. Beck offer a psychological plan — not a food plan — to get you to lose weight, keep the weight off and eat right. Here's an excerpt:

Chapter 3
How Thin People Think

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.

Characteristic 1
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.

The Beck Diet Solution

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.

Characteristic 2
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!

The Beck Diet Solution
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.

Characteristic 3
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 largemeal 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.

The Beck Diet Solution

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.

Characteristic 4
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 ea

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.

The Beck Diet Solution

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.

Characteristic 5
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.

The Beck Diet Solution

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.

Characteristic 6
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.

The Beck Diet Solution

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.