When someone talks about how much they were able to restrict their eating on Thanksgiving:
- It’s the most heartbreaking thing I can imagine in a person’s relationship to food and their body.
- It’s a profound misunderstanding about how long term (more than 5 year) weight loss and weight maintenance works.
Don’t be that person.
You can have it so much better. You can have both a more effective weight loss journey and a more enjoyable Thanksgiving.
Someone who is able to both lose weight and maintain it for a lifetime has mastered one foundational skill: Picking their battles.
Because they pick their battles, they are able to get weight loss results at opportune times, and maintain in inopportune times.
People Who Fail At Weight Loss Do This:
People who fail at weight loss always get it in reverse — they miss the opportunities to mindfully and intentionally enjoy more food with friends and family. Instead, they eat more mindlessly at times when it doesn’t really add much enjoyment to their lives:
- When it’s date night, they restrict.
- When it’s candy in the bowl at work, they eat it mindlessly.
- When it’s Thanksgiving with their family, they restrict.
- When they are watching TV, they snack mindlessly.
People Who Succeed At Weight Loss Do This:
In the flipside, someone who is successful at maintaining weight loss forever, knows that it’s the mindful eating with people they love that makes a difference:
- When it’s date night, they enjoy it and have a glass of wine, maybe even desert if they feel like it.
- When it’s candy in the bowl at work, they skip it, because really.
- When it’s Thanksgiving with their family, eat and be with their family, and eat their favorite pumpkin pie that grandma makes once per year.
- When they are watching TV, they skip the snacks and just watch TV, because you can’t watch TV and enjoy food at the same time.
It’s About Picking Your Battles
Thanksgiving Day is not the day to restrict. It’s not even a day to work on food skills in a really big way. If you want to work on a food skill, pick ONE of these:
- Eat slowly. Eating slowly is cool because you get to enjoy your food more, and people typically eat less total food when they eat it slowly. The combination of eating less calories AND enjoying it more works for special occasions.
- Eat mindfully. Take each bite and enjoy the five senses experience of it: Look at the food. Take a second to taste each bite. Notice how the food feels in your mouth. Listen to biting into something crunchy. Eat like you are on a cooking show, and you want to get every bit of enjoyment from the food as you can. The more you experience the food, the better you remember the food, the less you end up being hungry or snacking later (a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h). Again, less total calories AND more enjoyment.
It’s Not About Thanksgiving Day
It’s about November and December.
People fail because they eat all of the Christmas cookies that show up in the office. People fail because they give up after Thanksgiving and say “I’ll start again in the new year.” People fail because they have three holiday parties per week through all of December, and they drink at all of them.
People are successful when they choose. They eat more than normal on Thanksgiving and really enjoy it with their family. The next day, they go back to skills like eating just enough, portion sizing meals, eating 3-4 meals per day and no snacks.
One day doesn’t matter. A week or two, or a month, totally matters.
What If You Do Want to Loosen Up for All of The Holidays?
That’s an option also. GASP! What!?!?!? That’s crazy talk!
It’s true. You can actually dial it back.
Lets say you are working on seven food skills right now:
- Eating 3-4 meals per day (no snacks)
- Eating slowly
- Eating without screens
- Eating just enough
- Eating mostly whole foods
- Real life treats
- Boosting veggie intake
You could dial that back to two food skills for December:
- Eating 3-4 meals per day (no snacks)
- Boosting veggie intake
You wouldn’t be putting nearly as much energy into food skills as you were maybe the last few months (where you were losing weight consistently).
Instead, you dial it back to just two. There’s a huge difference between staying in the game with two food skills, and saying “Eff it! I’m starting again in January!”
Maybe with two skills you maintain the weight you’ve lost. Maybe you even continue to lose weight. But you don’t have to put as much energy towards it.
This ability to stay in the game at a lower level is another lifetime weight loss mastery skill.
The Biggest Predictor of Weight Loss Failure is Black and White Thinking
We know that the biggest predictor of weight loss failure is black and white thinking (i, j, k, l, m, n). That’s thinking things like:
- I’m off my diet.
- I ate something that wasn’t clean.
- I blew it, so I’ll start again (next week, next month, next year).
- I ate something bad.
- I ruined everything.
It’s normal to have those thoughts. We’ve been conditioned by diet culture to think those thoughts. I repeat it’s ok to have those thoughts.
But you don’t have to act on them.
The AND Method
Weight loss mastery is often about having those thoughts, and practicing your food skills anyway.
A really simple skill for working through black and white food thoughts is the AND Method:
“I’m having the thought that __________ [insert black and white food thought] AND what I’m going to do is ___________ [insert food skill you are going to practice].”
- “I’m having the thought that ‘I’m off my diet’ AND I’m going to boost my veggie intake at the next meal.
- “I’m having the theoguht that ‘I ate something that wasn’t clean,’ AND I’m going to eat slowly for the rest of the day.”
- “I’m having the thought that ‘I blew it, so I’ll start again after new years,’ AND I’m going to eat 3-4 meals, no snacks, for the rest of the day.”
- “I’m having the thought that ‘I ate something bad,’ AND I’m going to add in a real life treat.”
- “I’m having the thought that ‘I ruined everything,’ AND I’m going to boost my protein intake at the next meal.”
This is based on a concept of fusion and defusion, from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (m, n, o, p, q, r). Fusion is essentially the state of being bullied by our thoughts. Instead, we take the perspective that it’s normal to have these thoughts, and we can still take actions in line with our values in goals.
People Talk About Moderation Like It’s Impossible
Moderation is simple. It just means practicing some of the skills and not all of them.
It’s ok to practice some sometimes. It’s ok to practice most of them other times.
If you can practice some of the skills, all of the time, you will win at weight loss. The person who gets the most practice wins. And the people who practice a little sometimes and a lot sometimes get more practice than people who practice all of them and then quit.
Remember, it’s ok to have the “black and white diet thoughts,” but you don’t have to act on them.
Whoever gets the most practice (cumulative, not all at once) is the most successful with weight loss.
Thanksgiving is The Best Time To Practice Life Long Weight Loss Mastery:
Here is your four step plan for lifetime weight loss mastery:
- On Thanksgiving Day, practice 1 or 0 of the skills.
- After Thanksgiving Day, and in December, practice 1-3 food skills
- In January, practice the Core 5 Food Skills
- Notice when you have black and white food thoughts. Practice your food skills anyway.
Impact of five senses experience and memory on food intake:
(a) Oldham-Cooper, R. E., Hardman, C. A., Nicoll, C. E., Rogers, P. J., & Brunstrom, J. M. (2011). Playing a computer game during lunch affects fullness, memory for lunch, and later snack intake. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 93(2), 308-313.
(b) Brunstrom, J. M., Burn, J. F., Sell, N. R., Collingwood, J. M., Rogers, P. J., Wilkinson, L. L., … & Ferriday, D. (2012). Episodic memory and appetite regulation in humans. PloS one, 7(12), e50707.
(c) Ogden, J., Coop, N., Cousins, C., Crump, R., Field, L., Hughes, S., & Woodger, N. (2013). Distraction, the desire to eat and food intake. Towards an expanded model of mindless eating. Appetite, 62, 119–26.
(d) Mittal, D., Stevenson, R. J., Oaten, M. J., & Miller, L. A. (2011). Snacking while watching TV impairs food recall and promotes food intake on a later TV free test meal. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25(6), 871–877.
(e) Parent, M. B. (2016). Cognitive control of meal onset and meal size: Role of dorsal hippocampal-dependent episodic memory. Physiology & Behavior.
(f) Higgs, S., Williamson, A. C., Rotshtein, P., & Humphreys, G. W. (2008). Sensory-specific satiety is intact in amnesics who eat multiple meals. Psychological Science, 19(7), 623-628.
(g) Scheibehenne, B., Todd, P. M., & Wansink, B. (2010). Dining in the dark. The importance of visual cues for food consumption and satiety. Appetite, 55(3), 710-713.
(h) Robinson, E., Aveyard, P., Daley, A., Jolly, K., Lewis, A., Lycett, D., & Higgs, S. (2013). Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating. The American journal of clinical nutrition, ajcn-045245.
Black and white food relationship and weight loss failure:
(i) Palascha, A., van Kleef, E., & van Trijp, H. C. (2015). How does thinking in Black and White terms relate to eating behavior and weight regain?. Journal of health psychology, 20(5), 638-648.
(j) Blomquist, K. K., & Grilo, C. M. (2011). Predictive significance of changes in dietary restraint in obese patients with binge eating disorder during treatment. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 44(6), 515-523.
(k) Sairanen, E., Lappalainen, R., Lapveteläinen, A., Tolvanen, A., & Karhunen, L. (2014). Flexibility in weight management. Eating behaviors, 15(2), 218-224.
(l) Byrne, S. M., Cooper, Z., & Fairburn, C. G. (2004). Psychological predictors of weight regain in obesity. Behaviour research and therapy, 42(11), 1341-1356.
(m) Meule, A., Westenhöfer, J., & Kübler, A. (2011). Food cravings mediate the relationship between rigid, but not flexible control of eating behavior and dieting success. Appetite, 57(3), 582-584.
(n) Smith, C. F., Williamson, D. A., Bray, G. A., & Ryan, D. H. (1999). Flexible vs. Rigid dieting strategies: relationship with adverse behavioral outcomes. Appetite, 32(3), 295-305.
Defusion and valued action:
(m) Hayes, S. C., Levin, M. E., Plumb-Vilardaga, J., Villatte, J. L., & Pistorello, J. (2013). Acceptance and commitment therapy and contextual behavioral science: Examining the progress of a distinctive model of behavioral and cognitive therapy. Behavior therapy, 44(2), 180-198.
(n) Kishita, N., Muto, T., Ohtsuki, T., & Barnes-Holmes, D. (2014). Measuring the effect of cognitive defusion using the Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure: An experimental analysis with a highly socially anxious sample. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 3(1), 8-15.
(o) Forman, E. M., Butryn, M. L., Juarascio, A. S., Bradley, L. E., Lowe, M. R., Herbert, J. D., & Shaw, J. A. (2013). The mind your health project: a randomized controlled trial of an innovative behavioral treatment for obesity. Obesity, 21(6), 1119-1126.
(p) Forman, E. M., Butryn, M. L., Manasse, S. M., Crosby, R. D., Goldstein, S. P., Wyckoff, E. P., & Thomas, J. G. (2016). Acceptance‐based versus standard behavioral treatment for obesity: Results from the mind your health randomized controlled trial. Obesity, 24(10), 2050-2056.
(q) Harris, R. The happiness trap: how to stop struggling and start living. 2008. Trumpeter, Boston.
(r) Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.