Although the focus of our cognitive behavioral approach to permanent weight loss is on helping people change how they think so they can make long lasting changes in their eating, we do provide them with certain guidelines about food.
They start making these changes while they are learning how to diet. Some dieters, who already know about healthy eating, find these suggestions to be sufficient. Others make additional changes once they've mastered the pre-dieting skills.
This is what we tell them:
1. If you want to be able to keep off the weight you lose, only make changes you can keep up long-term. We have found that if dieters lose weight eating (or exercising) in a way they can't maintain, they invariably gain weight back. If you love ice cream, don't eliminate it from your diet because you're almost certain to return to eating it in the future (as well you should!). Instead, learn how to eat it in moderation.
2. Don't cut your calories to a level you can't sustain long term. You may be able to eat 1,200 calories daily for even a year or two, but chances are you won't be able sustain that level. And the moment you add more calories (say, go up to 1,300 calories by adding the equivalent of one ounce of cheese OR one large apple OR a little less than one glass of wine a day), is the moment you'll start to gain weight back. We always ask our dieters, "What the point in cutting your calories down really low and getting to a weight that you ultimately can't maintain, anyway?"
3. It's important to find the middle ground. Being overly restrictive either in terms of the number of calories you eat per day, or the types of food you eat, often works for weight loss but it absolutely doesn't work for weight maintenance. Finding the middle ground between all-or-nothing ways of eating is critical for long-term success.
4. Choose one of the following food changes to institute. Add a second food change only after you've been able to sustain the food change for a minimum of a week and are confident you can keep it up. Keep adding more until you're practicing all of them consistently.
- Eat one favorite junk food every day, but in a reasonable portion. For many dieters, the best time to eat it is in the evening, so you can look forward to it all day.
- Plan meals and snacks with more lean protein and fewer carbs (other than fruits and vegetables) and a moderate amount of fat. Protein and fat are satiating and you won't feel as hungry between meals.
- Add fruits and vegetables to every meal. It's actually preferable to eat them at the beginning of meals so you can fill up on your healthiest calories first.
- Decrease your consumption of caloric liquids.
We've found that when our dieters "eat smarter" in this way, their weight goes down. Of course, they still need to anticipate challenges that could throw them off track and master the skills of getting themselves to eat in this way consistently, even when they don't feel like it.
Read more from Dr. Judith Beck.