by Harvey Widroe, M.D.
"I'm depressed because I weigh too much," acknowledged Julie, a 35-year-old working mother of two. "When I last looked, I weighed more than 200 pounds. After that nightmare came true, I refused to get on the scale. Who knows how much I weigh now?
"Whenever I try a new diet, it always works – at least for awhile. I will lose anywhere from five to twenty-five pounds. Then all of a sudden, the diet doesn't work anymore. I stop losing weight, and in no time, perhaps a week or two, I give up. Any weight that I had lost all comes back, along with a few extra pounds for good measure."
Julie isn't alone. A myriad of dieters tell pretty much the same story. They start on a diet, almost any diet, and for a few weeks or even months they are successful. Then their weight hits a plateau and they begin to falter in their adherence to the diet program. Put another way, they begin to cheat. And as the cheating increases, they become less enthralled with the diet (and even more unhappy with themselves) and finally abandon their weight loss program altogether.
Julie and most dieters have a number of bogus ideas about their difficulty in losing weight. Most are rationalizations because they just eat too much.
"I think my metabolism is slow, but my doctor and an endocrine specialist tell me that my hormones and my metabolic rate are all normal. I still think they are wrong. I don't seem to eat all that much, but the weight won't go away. In fact it keeps creeping upward. Maybe it's in my genes. I feel helpless and depressed about my appearance. And when I am depressed, I tend to eat even more.
"Raising two kids as a working mom is a good excuse to feel stressed, but those are the facts of my life. What can I do?"
Success in the war for weight control requires acknowledging that all dieters are cheaters. Cheating while dieting is not a moral weakness. Instead of berating ourselves for cheating, we have to develop a simple plan for controlled cheating that results in lower overall calorie consumption.
The bottom line: Decreased calorie consumption is the path that leads to weight loss. Forget about good calories or bad calories or good carbs versus bad carbs. A calorie is a calorie is a calorie. More calories ingested means more weight; if we eat fewer total calories, we will lose weight.
Decreased calorie consumption does not mean starvation dieting. A reduced intake of calories requires some heightening of awareness of what and how much we eat. Counting calories or points works for awhile, but the counting systems are too easy to ignore or forget and often too onerous to heightened awareness of our eating behavior needs to be channeled into simple, clear directions that are easy to follow and easy to stick with. Over a short period of time, these new directions of thought can become habits which are a new part of us. With a new eating consciousness and new habits geared to our eating, we change ourselves into dieters who carefully and happily watch pounds melt away.
Here are a few strategies to get started.
One device is the creation of a single 24-hour food diary in which we list every single thing that we eat for a single 24-hour period. We may ask what good can come of a one day food diary – the odds are that the 24 hours we choose for this exercise won't accurately reflect our overall eating behavior. After all, in a single recorded 24-hour period we may eat less so that, as we review it the next day, our food diary will get a gold star. The real value of the 24 hour food diary is that it starts us thinking about what we are doing. Instead of pretending we don't know what is going on, we are putting the spotlight of conscious awareness onto our eating behavior.
A second strategy to help us become more aware of our eating behaviors is to weigh ourselves every single day, and to record the daily weights for easy comparison. This simple addition to our daily routines can make a huge difference in our ability to continue to lose weight.
If you don't already have one, get a good digital scale. The kind of scales with the moving needles are all too susceptible to jiggling in the service of deluding ourselves. To the extent that we have some awareness that we are playing games with ourselves on the scale, the daily weights will lose their value and we will be more likely to stop weighing.
My patients' response to the idea of daily weigh-ins follows a certain pattern. First they resist the idea, afraid that the scale will confirm their worst fears. It usually does not. Alas, sometimes it does! But even then there is something helpful in just knowing the truth - versus the anxiety, even the deep seated terror, that goes with uncertainty.
Once my patients begin weighing, they feel very anxious about it for a number of days. They may tend to weigh themselves five or more times a day, hoping to see better numbers or fearing something worse. But after a week or two they settle down to weighing themselves once or twice a day. They then shift their attention onto the pattern of recorded weights to see their progress or the lack thereof.
Their attitude changes to become much more positive as they sense movement toward controlling a situation about which they had previously felt helpless. More important, they begin to think of what they are really doing to reduce calorie consumption. As they record their daily weights, they begin to pay more attention to what they actually will eat or have eaten. This increased awareness leads to reduced calorie consumption and ultimately to weight loss.
The one-day food diary and daily weigh-ins are only a few of the techniques we can employ in increasing awareness of our eating behaviors to bring about weight loss. We can learn to use our heightened level of consciousness about food choices at home, at the supermarket, or in restaurants.
Weight control isn't hopeless, after all.
Harvey Widroe M.D., author, The Smart Dieter's Cheating Guide: Eat and Watch Pounds Melt Away (Outskirts Press 2007) with Ron Kenner
Dr. Harvey J. Widroe An internationally known psychiatrist who for many decades has lectured extensively throughout the US and the UK before professional and lay audiences, Dr. Widroe has treated literally thousands of patients, many of whom have had weight control problems. He has written a wide variety of scientific papers as well as book chapters and a psychiatric text book, Ego Psychology and Psychiatric Treatment Planning (Appleton Psychiatry series), that is now a classic in the field of psychiatry. Not least, Dr. Widroe, realizing that diets generally fail -- because what counts most is not the diet but eating less -- has spent years exploring the mindset of the dieter, with a strong focus on how to succeed while dieting for the real world.